Already, the whispers have begun.
Soon you will know the name of James Reimer
’s agent. There will be negotiations and posturing over his contract.
Don’t worry. Reimer isn’t going anywhere. His status as a restricted free agent assures that.
He will sign a contract in the summer, probably for $2 million or more and the apprehension about his signing will fade away, replaced by the welcome drone of a midsummer baseball broadcast.
But talk of his contract signals a kind of sea change. Suddenly Reimer is far too good to let get away.
The Leafs play the Red Wings in Detroit, Saturday night and Reimer moves into the crucible against one of hockey’s best teams. If the Leafs beat the Wings, the Buffalo Sabres are surely a feasible target on Tuesday. Suddenly, the notion of running the table, of winning 10 straight games would seem somehow, well, possible.
All of this is not due to James Reimer
, but everything changed with his start, January 1, New Year’s Day.
Even without Saturday, Reimer has gone from a curiosity to the pillar of a franchise whose rebuild has unexpectedly hit turbo. The Leafs have clawed back from 14 points out to three and with plenty of cap room and prospects Joe Colborne
, Jake Gardiner
and Matt Frattin
not too far away, respectability seems to have arrived right on time.
For those who deal with James Reimer
there is a familiar cycle of impressions. First, disbelief, then more disbelief, followed by admiration and then, a sort of nervousness.
Put to words that feeling is: “don’t change.”
He is not humble in the way that humility is acquired and practiced. Any sense of self-importance falls off him like thawing ice. It’s that organic.
He is, in a way that can’t quite be qualified, like no one else. There is about Reimer the sense of the silly savant, the perfect combination of a person who does the miraculous yet doesn’t see the miracle.
Welcoming of any conversation, Reimer is simply unable to take offence. After he talks to the media, he often lingers in the dressing room, taking his equipment off a piece at a time. He wants to talk some more, or actually, he wants to talk and to listen.
When discussing Denver or Minnesota, he asks about the sights, as if discovering a new arena is part of the fun.
He is, like Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street, irrevocably sure about who he is despite the disbelief of an often cynical public and media that it cannot be so.
But the notion that a 23-year-old man exposed to one of the brightest spotlights in the hockey world will not change is a worse thought than the idea that he will.
In the summer 1947, Gordie Howe went back home to Floral, Saskatchewan. The first person to greet him wondered where he had been all winter. It’s not like that anymore.James Reimer
figures to be on the cover of the Leafs Media Guide, and The Hockey News pre-season guide, and the fantasy league magazines. He will be recognized everywhere, in Canada and out and the time he didn’t even know was his will no longer be. He may be of Morweena, Manitoba, but he probably won’t be there very much.
Reimer will field offers to capitalize on his appeal. Don’t wait, he will be told, this won’t last forever. Who wouldn’t oblige offers to gain another measure of financial security? It’s just what you do.
This is not to infer that Reimer will stop being what he is: a respectful, well grounded, young man curiously untouched by how big a deal his story is.
But the tale of the innocent in the big city has traction. It’s a young Bobby Orr not bothering to cash his paycheques and carelessly leaving them all about his apartment. It is Maurice Richard neither accepting nor understanding his unique role in the political churn of 1950s Quebec. It’s Howe living together with his young teammates at Ma Shaw’s rooming house in Detroit where Wings GM Jack Adams could monitor him. Even Jaromir Jagr eventually cut his hair. People change.
So the question for James Reimer
isn’t whether his life will continue to change, but how much of himself he will keep.
This is not an incidental point. Person and player, of course, are inextricably bound together. What affects one affects the other.
Spectacularly successful and immensely likeable, James Reimer
has it all. Now, can he keep it when the arenas are old hat and the defence betrays him and when people are telling him he is underpaid and his contract is guaranteed whether he wins or not.
The Garden Of Eden was lost through the sin of awareness. James Reimer
, a devout man, no doubt knows that.
In the Leafs crease, another battle, an invisible one is being waged: irresistible force against immovable object, James Reimer
against the world.