TORONTO - James Reimer could toast his success with a Blue Hawaiian on Thursday when his island vacation began with news of his contract extension.
In a deal that gives the young goaltender a degree of security, but doesn’t break Brian Burke’s bank, the Maple Leafs signed him for three years at $1.8 million per season. It takes the 23-year-old through the 2013-14 season with a chance to then really cash in, if he maintains his promising rookie numbers from 2010-11.
Instead of a planned year of training with the AHL Marlies this past season, Reimer played his way into a prime time role with the Leafs by January. An injury to Jean-Sebastien Giguere and ongoing hiccups by Jonas Gustavsson opened the door to rapid promotion.
With a record of 20-10-5, capped by a .920 save percentage that was second among NHL rookies, Reimer was the engine behind a late-season playoff drive. The Leafs eventually ran out of time, but not before Reimer became the projected No. 1 for next year.
“We are very happy to get this done, and have James as a big part of the Leafs organization moving forward,” Leafs vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin told the Sun’s Rob Longley. “He played an instrumental role in our
improvement and we’re confident he will continue to do so in the seasons ahead.”
Ray Petkau, Reimer’s Winnipeg-based agent, was happy negotiations with the restricted free agent didn’t drag through the summer.
“We seriously looked at a two-year deal, but in going to three, we thought it would be a little less pressure on James,” Petkau said. “It gives him some time, which he might need in the Toronto market if he (struggles). There’s no question he might be underpaid by the time he gets to the third year, but I think you’d rather be underpaid as a young player.
“Bottom line, James is happy and the Leafs have a fabulous goalie (under) the salary cap. It gives James security and allows everyone to be patient. He’s starting workouts next week and is really focused on doing even better next year.”
Petkau has been Reimer’s rep since he was a young teen and assures that his humble nature and small town values are not an act for the fans and media. Reimer is introduced on game night as being from Morweena, Man., pop. 150, but is very comfortable in the fishbowl that is the Leafs.
“I call him a throwback to what players were like maybe 40 or 50 years ago,” Petkau said. “He’s fiery on the ice, but very friendly off of it and always willing to help. Now that he’s signed, we’re going to be talking about some charity work and perhaps setting him up with a charity of his own.”
When Reimer returns from Hawaii, he’ll be going straight to a gym in British Columbia to work out with his personal trainer and wants to live closer to other NHLers this summer to keep his skills sharp.
“There are a lot of things he wants to do differently to prepare for next year, to get stronger,” Petkau added.
With Reimer safely in the fold, the next question is who will be his partner. Giguere eventually had sports hernia surgery and hopes to return as a back-up and mentor to Reimer, but the Leafs have other young goalies under contract, including Gustavsson.
Wilson waits, Eakins stays
True to his word, Burke is staying mum on the subject of a contract extension for Ron Wilson, with one report suggesting the matter is off the table completely until the Leafs can show some regular season improvement. It’s more likely the uncertainty surrounding all MLSE sports properties while majority ownership is in question means that Burke is not in position to be taking such leaps of faith. Wilson has not made the playoffs in three years, a club record for a coach.
It does appear the Leafs are not in immediate danger of losing the bright Dallas Eakins as a potential replacement for Wilson farther down the road.
Eakins has been with the Marlies two years after a year as Leafs’ player development director.
Though Ottawa, Minnesota and Dallas are currently interviewing for head coaching and assistant positions, Burke says he’s not been approached about Eakins.
“I will never ask to pursue another position as I love Toronto and the people I work for,” Eakins said. “We are firmly headed in the right direction and I am excited to be a part of it. If someone is interested, they can call Brian and ask for permission to speak to me. I have no interest in any assistant positions.”
The 2011-12 NHL schedule won’t be out for a few weeks, but you can bet Reimer will circle the Leafs’ game if Winnipeg. “I was probably one of the kids who cried when they left in ‘96,” Reimer said earlier this year. “My favourite players were Nikolai Khabibulin and Teemu Selanne. It was a fun team when you were a kid, because everyone was young and (pretending to be Jets).”... Daniel Catenacci is one of five GTA kids who could go in the top 40 of the draft, with the Leafs holding some late first-round tickets. He’s a 5-foot-10 centre, but muscular and well rounded in the game, thanks to his father Maurice, who played 16 years in Europe and coached his son using many of the drills he learned overseas. A Richmond Hill native, Daniel played minor hockey for York-Simcoe Express and would welcome a Leaf selection. “It would be cool to be part of their organization,” the Soo Greyhound told Leafs TV.