Everything's riding on Reimer

The Maple Leafs' playoff fate, let alone head coach Ron Wilson's job, is likely riding on the...

The Maple Leafs' playoff fate, let alone head coach Ron Wilson's job, is likely riding on the success or failures of starting goaltender James Reimer this coming season. (Getty Images)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:30 PM ET

TORONTO - So what do the Maple Leafs have riding on James Reimer this year?

We’ll begin with millions of dollars in potential playoff revenue, since most agree that wonky goaltending at the start of the season has been a chief culprit in six straight spring failures. Tales of goalie glory are becoming ancient history in this town, when Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour would bank the early points that put Toronto in the clear for post-season play in 10 of 12 years up to the NHL lockout.

They won four consecutive games to start last year, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere soon succumbed to injuries and Jonas Gustavsson’s inconsistencies crept in again. Reimer played 24 of 25 games down the stretch, most of them positive results. Now he must show the gumption to play about 20 of the first 25 in October and November and 60 to 65 overall. No one expects him to keep pace with all-stars Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller in the Northeast, but he must at least answer the bell.

How Reimer performs will likely impact coach Ron Wilson’s future. With no contract extension entering the season after his three playoff misses, Wilson doesn’t need another crisis in the crease. There will be demands for Wilson’s head if the Leafs stumble early and though general manager Brian Burke is not one to fire coaches in mid-season, there wouldn’t be much choice if it extends to April.

Burke will want to see some return for the $5.4 million he invested in Reimer during the next three years. It’s true Reimer didn’t break the bank with this contract, making the team capologist happy, keeping expectations realistic and looking to a bigger payday down the road. But it was still a leap of faith for the Leafs, who let the veteran Giguere go rather than keep him for insurance purposes.

With all that on his shoulders, it’s remarkable Reimer’s posture wasn’t stooped as he entered the Hockey Hall Of Fame’s gift shop for Tuesday’s lunchtime autograph session. Instead, he strode in looking fit and trim from a summer of intense training in Maple Ridge, B.C. A packed house of Leaf fans applauded his arrival and even visitors wearing Boston and Detroit colours kept him busy signing cards, sweaters, stuffed bears and $50 canvas portraits for 90 minutes.

“I’m sure there are a lot of expectations on me and lots of things people want to see done,” Reimer said after the last handshake and photo. “Obviously, I don’t want to just make the playoffs, I want to win the Stanley Cup. Playoffs won’t be good enough, I hate to lose one game.

“I have pretty high expectations of myself and I think they exceed what most people would put on me. Those are the expectations I worry about.”

Reimer didn’t want last season’s unexpected run to end, agreeing to a stint with Team Canada at the world championship in May. He barely took time off to vacation with his wife before attacking off-season workouts, vowing, “I have no intention of being a one-year wonder.”

Personal trainer Adam Francilia concentrated on Reimer’s core strength around his torso to make his reactions more explosive. Reimer didn’t need to get bigger around the upper body and shoulders, he wanted to be able to keep square to the puck during high traffic periods around the net.

“Just getting quicker, working on a little stamina,” he said of changes to his game. “I’ve been trying to get stronger in some areas. If I’m going to be playing more games this year, I want to work on being quicker and stronger when I get tired.”

Those who think the Leafs have over-hyped Reimer will be looking for signs of a sophomore jinx or the mental fatigue of a full NHL season. Complacency is another potential pitfall for a young man who strikes it rich quick. “I hope it doesn’t change much for me,” Reimer said. “I want to go into camp with the mindset that it’s anyone’s position, anyone’s game.

“The money is more than I ever imagined (but) I want to go in and earn it, not expect things to be given to me.

“It’s great to have management and the coaching staff behind you and I’m hoping for a great couple of years here. I want to make it worth their while.”

Watching Reimer interact with the fans on Tuesday was agent Ray Petkau, who has known him since he was 13. Both men have family in tiny Morweena, Man., a Mennonite farm community of 150 north of Winnipeg.

“He’s put more effort into this game than anyone I know of,” Petkau says. “He deserves everything he’s getting now.”

And with that, the pressure.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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