TORONTO - We’d like to politely correct Brian Burke’s assertion on Tuesday that the Maple Leafs’ goaltending “wasn’t good enough this year.”
Just “this year?”
The past eight years is more like it.
Not since Ed Belfour led the team to the 2004 playoffs has a Leaf goalie competed in a post-season game while wearing Toronto blue-and-white.
In the ensuing seasons, Andrew Raycroft couldn’t do it. Nor could Vesa Toskala. For the past two seasons, James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson could not lead this playoff-starved franchise to the promised land either.
In the end, even though Burke insists Reimer is “the Real Deal” – a claim he made twice during his 25 minute press conference at the Air Canada Centre — count on the Maple Leafs addressing their goaltending situation during the off-season.
“I do think we can still plan on (Reimer) being the No. 1 guy, but we have to look at a guy who gives us more options and performances right from the get-go next year,” Burke acknowledged.
Easier said than done.
For one thing, who knows if Reimer will ever regain the form he exhibited prior to being steamrolled by Montreal’s Brian Gionta in October.
A Montreal-based doctor this past weekend told Reimer the injury was neck-related rather than a concussion, adding that he should be fine moving forward. That’s good news for Reimer, as nice a kid as you’ll ever meet, but it hardly serves as a guarantee that he won’t be a one-year or two-year wonder like Jim (Net Detective) Carey or Steve Penney.
Reimer is under contract for two more seasons, so he was never going anywhere other than to the trainer’s room. The same can’t be said for Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson, whose days in Toronto would seem to be over as he becomes a free agent this summer.
As a result, it’s very understandable that Burke was peppered with questions about the Leafs’ goalie woes.
Even though, at times, Burke didn’t really understand it.
Or, in the case of some particular questions, like it.
To be fair, he was quite composed when the first goalie-related query came in — that being, are you looking for someone with more experience to provide depth?
“We’ll sort that out,” Burke replied. “It’s a fair question.”
Five minutes later, when the next one came, Burke started to become irked.
Consider the following transcript of his exchange with the media as proof.
Do you need someone to compete with Reimer?
“That question’s been answered,” he said. “Everyone’s assuming that we didn’t try to address the goaltending issue at the trade deadline. We did.”
Does he still have confidence in James Reimer?
“I think James Reimer is the real deal,” Burke repeated. “Was anybody complaining about James Reimer before he got blindsided by Brian Gionta? The most recent medical advice is that (his injury is) not a concussion, never has been. It’s a neck issue.”
Do you think he needs some help in the form of another puckstopper, Burke was asked from the back of the room?
“He saved our season when we were in it, as far as stepping up,” Burke said. “I told him he’s the first person who needs to know what our intent is with the goaltending position.”
Would Gustavsson be best served somewhere else?
“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Burke said.
All this chatter is well and good, but talk is cheap if the Leafs can’t bring in a No. 1 goalie. To rely on Reimer, especially coming off this past injury-plagued season, would be nothing more than a Band-aid solution.
But where do you get a legitimate NHL starter? Burke insisted again on Tuesday that he would not move his first round draft pick as part of a deal to bring in a Jonathan Bernier or Anders Lindback, so now what?
You keep hearing names like Bernier and Lindback, but, aside from a handful of regular season victories, what have they won of significance? Would the Blues be willing to give up one piece of their two-headed goaltending monster, either Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak? And even if the Canucks wanted to deal Roberto Luongo in order to give the starting job to Cory Schneider, the Vancouver organization despises the Leafs.
Saying that you’ll bring another goalie in doesn’t mean much until it actually happens. Nor does it guarantee he’ll be an above-average one.