The Maple Leafs dealt James Reimer
to the San Jose Sharks as part of a multi-player trade Saturday – a move team GM Lou Lamoriello said was necessary to gauge the capabilities of other goaltenders in the Buds’ pipeline – and the veteran netminder will be missed, not only by his teammates and everyone in the organization, but by Leafs fans and the city of Toronto. Few, if any professional athletes who’ve played in Canada’s largest city have been as kind, classy and charitable as Reimer, and the outpouring of emotion on social media is proof positive of the enormous effect he had in his six seasons wearing Blue & White.
All of that was entirely earned by the 27-year-old Manitoba native. Toronto made Reimer the 99th pick in the 2006 Entry Draft, and he worked his way through the Leafs’ minor-league system – first, with Reading and South Carolina of the ECHL; then, in one-and-a-half seasons with the American League’s Marlies – before making his NHL debut in December of 2010 against the Atlanta Thrashers. He never had anything handed to him, and his demeanour never changed, whether he was serving in a backup role or as the Leafs’ starter between the pipes, whether he was struggling as an individual or thriving. He always was humble, always was polite, always tried to put himself in the shoes of those around him.
The NHL may be a league in which players are judged by wins and losses, but character counts for something, and Reimer has it in spades.
Reimer’s best year, statistics-wise, came in 2012-13, when he posted a career-high .924 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average, and was Toronto’s starter in net for their first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins. However, he began the current campaign as strongly as he’s ever played – in many games this season, he was the Leafs’ best player – and made himself attractive enough on the trade front to lead to the deal on Saturday (which also sent Marlies winger Jeremy Morin to San Jose for goalie Alex Stalock, forward Ben Smith, and a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2018). And the only reason Reimer is now an ex-Leaf is because Toronto is in the midst of a process that requires management to assess their current group of assets with an eye toward contending for the Stanley Cup in the years ahead.
To that end, the Leafs recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL following the trade, and the 22-year-old – who acquitted himself well in a five-game NHL stint that began in late November – will back up veteran Jonathan Bernier Saturday in Montreal when the team takes on the Canadiens.
“We needed to take a look at our minor-league goaltenders, who are playing extremely well,” Lamoriello said in a conference call Saturday. “We have to take a look at Garret Sparks right now, and see if how he performed when he did come up earlier is something that is the real thing. We’re going to have to find out about (Marlies goalie Antoine) Bibeau. These are all things that are in the process, and you can’t do it when you have two goaltenders here in the NHL.
“You never know unless they give you the opportunity, and the only way you get an opportunity is if there’s a space available for that.”
Lamoriello referred to Reimer as “a quality person (and) quality player,” who handled the news of the trade with his trademark class. And everyone in the organization who dealt with Reimer undoubtedly would agree. He had all the time in the world for the team’s fans, had a special connection to the military via the Leafs’ annual Armed Forces Night, and represented the city with dignity and decency at all times. That’s why fans – who’d taken to calling him “Optimus Reim” over the years – were saddened by the deal. But those same fans also know where Toronto is in the competitive cycle, and accept him moving on. It’s all part of the process of turning the team into a bona fide Cup contender, year-in-and-year-out, and Lamoriello understands that sometimes means parting ways with players who’ve done everything asked of them.
“Whenever you have a plan, you always go accordingly to it, as difficult as it is sometimes,” Lamoriello said. “What we have done is try to acquire pieces that can help us not only to gain young prospects, but also pieces that can gain players at the right time. You never know when that is, so I think that the situation we have been in, and what the process has been, and what (head coach) Mike (Babcock) and his staff has done with the team, we can see exactly the competitiveness that we have each and every night, no matter who is in that lineup. So it allows you to make some of these decisions, because we know we’re going to be able to play with anybody on every given night.
“These (trade) decisions are made for today and tomorrow, or you can reverse that and say tomorrow and today, because today we’re finding out about people that we have in our organization and whether they can do the job or not do the job. And we’re also preparing for the future, by acquiring picks or acquiring assets.”
Reimer certainly was an asset in his time with Toronto – and so was his wife, April, who took an unfortunate experience of dealing with some horrible people on Twitter a few years back and turned it into a huge positive in the form of an anti-bullying campaign to help young people. Like her husband, April was a tremendous addition to the organization and the city, and both James and herself will always have a place in the hearts of Leafs fans.
Legacy matters. The way you treat people, in good times and bad, matters, too. And James and April Reimer carved out phenomenal legacies in Leafs history. We wish them the best.