James Reimer has no intention of coming to training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a backup goaltender.
Reimer joined The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet's Fan 590 radio station in Toronto on Monday to talk about the two-year, $4.6 million contract he signed recently and said he expects to compete with Jonathan Bernier for the starting job.
"I was told there's a definite opportunity," Reimer said. "That's the mindset I'm coming in with, to really take advantage of the opportunity that's been given and earn the No. 1 spot."
Reimer was the team's starting goaltender in 2012-13, going 19-8-5 with a .924 save percentage to help the Maple Leafs reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. Bernier and Reimer split time in 2013-14, with Bernier gradually assuming the title of "No. 1 guy," but an injury left Reimer in net at the end of the season.
Despite having a better save percentage than Bernier after the Olympic break (Reimer was at .909 and Bernier at .904), some people in Toronto blamed Reimer's performance during the Maple Leafs' late-season collapse. There were multiple reports of the Maple Leafs possibly being interested in other goaltenders, notably Martin Brodeur, which would have almost certainly led to Reimer landing on a new team.
"It felt like things were heading in a different direction," Reimer said. "Over the course of the summer, things kind of changed and obviously signing the two-year contract it has taken a 180-[degree turn] from there. I'm really excited about coming back. It's not a case where I wanted to leave. I just thought, like I said, that things were kind of done there. I'm really excited to have another opportunity and kind of a new start there."
This will be Reimer's fifth season in the NHL. He's had two very good seasons (he had a .921 save percentage as a rookie in 2010-11 and the .924 in 2012-13). The other two included a major injury (concussion in 2011-12) and the competition with Bernier last season.
Bernier's increased playing time, plus Randy Carlyle's "just okay" assessment of Reimer after a game in late March led to speculation that there was a rift between the coach and his goaltender. Reimer told the Toronto radio station he didn't see it that way.
"I think it was blown a little out of proportion," Reimer said. "Lots of people have asked me about Randy and what I think of him, and in all honesty I've always defended him.
"I think maybe we didn't see eye-to-eye last year, but that has no bearing on his ability to coach or what he can do with the team. Sometimes you just don't see eye-to-eye and that's the way things go, but I have a lot of respect for him and I think he's a great coach."