Reimer making all the difference for Leafs

The sudden emergence of rookie goaltender James Reimer has turned the lowly Maple Leafs into a...

The sudden emergence of rookie goaltender James Reimer has turned the lowly Maple Leafs into a competitive team. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters file photo)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:40 AM ET

James Reimer has managed the unlikely in his first half-season with the Maple Leafs: He has all but silenced the talk of Ron Wilson's future in Toronto.

That, along with stopping pucks and changing a team's environment, is what a great goaltender can do for a struggling team.

This is not all that different from what happened during the Pat Quinn years when Curtis Joseph and later Ed Belfour played so well in goal for the Leafs they were able to cover up other club deficiencies. The real difference, other than calibre of teams: Joseph and Belfour had deep resumes when they arrived to rescue the Leafs. Reimer is a fresh face who looks to be -- hold your breath -- for real. The sample size of his work may be small at this point but the impact to date has been enormous.

Without Reimer, the Leafs had the worst penalty-killing numbers in the NHL. With him, they are a Top 5 PK team.

Without Reimer, the Leafs ranked near the bottom in goals against and save percentage.

With him, they have Top 5 numbers.

Without Reimer, the Leafs have played at 71-point pace, nowhere near a playoff team.

With him, they have played at 112-point pace heading into Saturday night's game against Pittsburgh.

Reimer may not have saved Wilson's job -- it was doubtful he was going to be fired anyway -- but the young goalie has quieted the discussion.

For now, for as long as this lasts, the coach should be thankful.

This and that

If anyone should be feeling the heat at the trade deadline, it's Washington general manager George McPhee. All year long, something has been wrong with the Capitals. If he doesn't shake things up on Monday, they have little chance of succeeding in the playoffs ... The other general manager who needs to be bold: Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi. His roster is close but needs a push. Someone needs to wake the sleepy Lombardi up in time to be active at the deadline ... The injury to Eric Staal could be a benefit to the Leafs. The longer Staal is out in Carolina, the better chance the Leafs have of pushing towards the playoffs ... Another thing working in the Leafs favour, and why the Leafs have to win Sunday night in Atlanta against the Thrashers: Buffalo plays its next seven games on the road. If the Leafs believe they're a playoff team, the time to leapfrog the Sabres is now ... The challenge for Brian Burke between now and July: He has restricted free agents in Reimer, Luke Schenn and Clarke MacArthur who are deserving of significant raises and Carl Gunnarsson and Tyler Bozak who are also RFAs, but haven't done enough to get a big salary push.

Hear and there

The biggest thing to watch with Brandon Morrow in Year 2 as Blue Jay: Can he win away from the Rogers Centre? Last year, Morrow was 8-1, 2.74 at home, 2-6 6.26 on the road. The year before in Seattle, his ERA was two points higher on the road than at home ... Don't remember a year with so many possible playoff teams and so few legitimate Stanley Cup contenders ... Don't know if it's reason to worry but the fact Aaron Hill is injured at the start of spring training is something to think about ... Sports Illustrated used to be the gold standard for sports journalism, just not so often anymore. This week's piece on Mike Danton, written by the talented Jon Wertheim, is well-written but terribly one-sided and incomplete. Danton keeps pleading for a second chance in hockey but is never questioned about his unwillingness to provide second chances for his mother, brother and many others (Editor's Note: Simmons' controversial book on Danton's family, The Lost Dream, will be coming out in the fall, published by Penguin.) ... The best thing about Raptors' broadcasts: P.J. Carlesimo's halftime interviews. The worst thing (I know, I've said this before) is Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong's need to turn every game into karaoke.

Scene and heard

OK, maybe it's just me, but all these Vancouver Olympics retrospectives are exhausting. Yes, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Yes, it was incredible. But re-living it, day after day, moment by moment, is boring me to tears ... The real question on the Alex Kovalev for a conditional seventh-round draft pick trade is this: Who got the better of the deal? ... The only reason I'm cheering for San Jose to win the Stanley Cup? The quirky odds of the unquoteable Antti Niemi winning back-to-back Stanley Cups playing goal for different teams ... Sunday Stat: Wade Belak has played parts of 13 NHL years and never once has he been paid more than $850,000 in a season ... An online poll at raptorsrepublic.com asks this question: Who is more frustrating? A) Andrea Bargnani B) Jay Triano C) Bryan Colangelo. Bargnani is the runaway leader at 51%, followed by Triano at 27% an Colangelo at 22% ... If defence is all about effort and system, how do you explain the Raptors' inability to play it, year after year, with all the roster and coaching changes? ... As of Saturday, eight teams were within four points in the NHL's Western Conference, and only four of them will end up making the playoffs.

And another thing

Congratulations to Jim Barker for his coach-of-the-year award in the CFL but doesn't Mike O'Shea deserve half of it? If it wasn't for the Argos' crazy-good special teams, they don't win 10 games and Barker gets no trophy. Barker ran the rather horrible offence of the Argos. The rookie O'Shea took care of specials team ... The tweet of the week, from the always entertaining Argonauts offensive lineman Rob Murphy: "If you could punch one CFL player in the mouth without them fighting back, who would it be and why?" ... And Don Matthews doesn't count because he's retired and never was a CFL player ... The NBA seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to returning basketball to the Pacific Northwest. In recent weeks, different NBA voices have insisted they'd like to see the league back in Vancouver and Seattle. It will happen in one place. Not both ... Every time I hear the name Paul Mara, I think Rafael ... Tell me you didn't smile when you saw Chris Bosh went 1-for-18 against the Chicago Bulls the other night ... The recently released tight end Jeremy Shockey is telling people he'd like to play for his favourite team growing up, the Miami Dolphins ... Happy birthday to Dallas Eakins (44), Jerry (the ex-Leaf) Butler (60), Roy White (68), James Worthy (50) and Elizabeth Taylor (79) ... And hey, whatever became of Billy Harris?

The class of 2008

A year ago, Zach Bogosian was up and Luke Schenn was down; Tyler Myers was running away with the Calder Trophy and Alex Pietrangelo was playing junior hockey in Ontario. And Drew Doughty was everybody's choice to dominate the Norris Trophy of the future.

All five of the young defenceman selected from the Entry Draft of 2008, each of them, in their own way, demonstrating the difficulty of establishing yourself as an NHL defenceman.

Doughty aside -- although not as dominant this season, he remains of another level -- the other four early draft choices have been great and struggling, terrific and terrible, depending on the year, the month, the circumstance. Schenn and Pietrangelo are having excellent seasons. Bogosian and Myers, not so much.

More often than not, this is the plight of the young defenceman.

It always takes time to find out exactly what you have.

When the players quit on a coach ...

Say this much for the rather inept Toronto Raptors: At least they haven't turned on coach Jay Triano the way the Detroit Pistons turned on their head coach John Kuester on Friday.

Six Pistons players failed to show up for the morning shootaround and Kuester responded by playing only six bodies in their evening loss in Philadelphia.

Kuester was kicked out of that game and players on the bench were seen laughing at his ejection.

"I feel badly for John Kuester," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I think it's a black eye for the league. I know Detroit is in disarray right now at some level. You worry about a coach and, you know, his psyche after something like that happens."

You worry also about a team and its fan base in an economically challenged market and the message that sabotage sells.

A first in Nashville

When Blake Geoffrion was called up by the Nashville Predators, it marked two different kinds of history well worth noting.

Not only is Geoffrion the first fourth-generation NHL player, and what bloodlines -- great grandfather, Howie Morenz; grandfather Boom Boom Geoffrion; dad Danny Geoffrion -- but maybe more significantly, he is the first graduate of the Nashville minor-hockey system to make it to the big leagues.

That is unique on its own.

And never mind just making it to the NHL.

He's playing for the home-town Predators.

Imagine what that feels like for kids playing hockey in and around Nashville.

The long-term affect of Geoffrion's rise could serve as wonderful motivation in a non-traditional hockey market.

Geoffrion is the first: Here's hoping we see many more.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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