TORONTO - So much of the Maple Leafs’ goaltending issues the past decade have been linked to health issues.
Other than Andrew Raycroft, who suffered mainly from bouts of inconsistency, a string of misfortune has hampered the Leafs at this vital position. With James Reimer reporting for camp on Friday in ideal condition after a summer in the gym under personal trainer Adam Francilia, it should be one less headache for general manager Brian Burke. Flexibility and being more explosive with a stronger trunk were the focus, as well as sticking to an organic diet.
“James felt that he had a big responsibility, to not only himself, but the entire organization to do everything to prepare himself,” said Francilia, who trains NHL, MLB and pro lacrosse players from his gym in B.C.
“James really transformed himself, not only physically, but in his understanding and appreciation for the importance of his health and wellness, how they directly impact his on-ice performance, short and long term.
“Most of our workouts were very taxing, both physically and mentally. Without the proper nutrition and recovery techniques it would have been impossible for James to sustain that level of training throughout the summer. He’s very aware of the opportunity and situation that he has in front of him this year and he carried that awareness all the way through his off-season training.”
Most of his immediate predecessors in the Leafs cage were also dedicated to their training methods. But something went awry with each:
Ed Belfour - He was 37 when signed as a free agent in the summer of 2002 and there was concern that something in his anatomy would snap if his famous temper didn’t.
Belfour was surprisingly durable to start and the Leafs did very well his first term. Back spasms, however, flared up in mid-season, costing him three games and keeping him out of all-star week.
The problem returned intermittently, and in the summer of 2004, an MRI detected a bulging disc. Belfour didn’t play in the World Cup that summer and the NHL’s lockout year became a source of strained relations with the Leafs, who signed him to a new deal without realizing the severity of his problem. A groin injury also slowed him in 2005-06, the first of six straight seasons the Leafs would miss the playoffs. The Leafs were spooked by the injury and bought out Belfour that summer.
Vesa Toskala - He was acquired from San Jose Sharks in a 2007 summer trade as insurance against Raycroft’s cold spells. But Toskala was on injured reserve for a sore groin not long into his first Toronto season.
But it was his hip and knee woes that would chip away at his effectiveness as a starter. He was shut down in March of 2009 for hip socket surgery and the following season, angered the Leafs by trying to play through a knee problem without informing them he was in pain. He was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in January of 2010.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere - Acquired in the Toskala deal, Giguere finished the ’09-10 season very strong and all signs pointed to at least one more good year at age 33, bridging the gap to young Swede Jonas Gustavsson.
But after the Leafs started the schedule with a record of 4-0-1, mysterious groin troubles arose and put Giguere on the shelf by Christmas. He would miss games with three separate groin injuries in all last season, leading to sports hernia surgery last spring. Considering his age, the Leafs decided it was more prudent to go with youth and leave the battle between Gustavsson and the upstart Reimer.
Jonas Gustavsson - Alarm bells were raised on the first day of camp medicals in 2009 when his heartbeat started racing. He needed an ablation process twice that season to control the condition, once encountering it in the middle of a game. Gustavsson, who never knew he had the problem until coming to the NHL, required further surgery. The Leafs insist it’s no longer a concern, but people want to see him get through a full season before they’ll believe.
A persistent groin ailment and a broken finger also dogged his second season in Toronto, but he has come in this year determined to push Reimer for the No. 1 job.