Reimer thankful for second chance

Leafs general manager Brian Burke recently commented that James Reimer has changed the team's...

Leafs general manager Brian Burke recently commented that James Reimer has changed the team's thinking that an upgrade in goal was a necessity. (Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:26 AM ET

TORONTO - In less than 16 months, headlines have run the gamut from “Who Is James Reimer?” to “How Great Can James Reimer Be?” to “Whatever Happened to James Reimer?”

Such is life in the most demanding, high-profile job in Toronto — aside from Rob Ford’s.

The goaltender is back in the news after Leafs general manager Brian Burke kick-started Reimer hype at the draft in Pittsburgh, declaring he’d come back with a one-two punch of Reimer and Ben Scrivens if he can’t land a veteran netminder.

Reimer, Burke said, was “in unbelievable shape, the real deal and made it clear he’s not handing that net to anybody.”

Most pleasing to Reimer’s ears is Burke’s line that “he’s changed our thinking” that a trade was a must.

That hasn’t quite spooked Mike Gillis into dropping the asking price on Roberto Luongo, but it certainly has Reimer pumped about his chances of retaining the role he lost, in large part because of injury.

From his summer training base in Kelowna, B.C., Reimer told the Sun he’s going to put his second chance to good use.

“I’m thankful to Burkie for saying what he did because this summer is a big one for me,” he said.

“I’ve cleared up a lot of things and the neck has not hindered me at all.”

Reimer said he has been checked out by Leafs doctors and specialists and will commence on-ice workouts in early July with Kelowna’s large NHL community.

His problems last year stemmed from a crease collision with Brian Gionta in Montreal on Oct. 22. Reimer was riding a personal streak of 4-0-1, a continuation of his strong play in the second half of 2010-11.

But Reimer’s mishap cost him a month with concussion-like symptoms and he never found his groove. Scrivens and the now departed Jonas Gustavsson could not hold the fort, either.

Reimer had already initiated off-ice promotions such as a clothing line, but everything took a back seat when the Leafs missed the playoffs a seventh straight year.

Reimer heard the grumbling that NHL shooters had figured him out and that he’d been anointed No. 1 too fast.

“What people say is neither here nor there,” Reimer said. “I could have played better, but the injury happened.”

If there was one advantage, Reimer’s conservative three-year contract at $1.8 million a season is not a burden for the Leafs as they re-assess where he fits in.

It’s turning into a lean summer for acquiring goalies as Tomas Vokoun, Anders Lindback and Josh Harding were taken off the market, although New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur recently announced he could test free agency if he isn’t re-signed by Sunday. Burke’s dwindling options include paying heavily for Luongo or hoping Reimer and Scrivens really can do the job until more depth presents itself.

Burke was encouraged by Scrivens’ excellent season with the Marlies when the farm team made the Calder Cup final. Reimer was watching that, too, mindful that his strongest challenge in training camp might be an in-house candidate.

“I think we’d push each other,” Reimer said. “Any goalie would want to protect his job, from Scrivy or anyone else. But I’ve known him a couple of years, we’re good friends and I’ve been to his wedding. It would actually be fun to have the two of us.”

Scrivens is taking a bit of a holiday after his season didn’t end until mid-June, two months after Reimer. But Reimer went right back to the gym to retain the core strength that lagged while he was sidelined.

His personal trainer, Adam Francilia, no longer runs a public gym and is now working one-on-one full-time with NHL clients such as Reimer on complete conditioning and nutrition programs.

With stronger trunk muscles, Reimer can dig in to pivot better and play that “economical” style that helped in his rookie year.

“I pride myself on work ethic,” said Reimer, who is from the small Manitoba community of Morweena. “I want to build on the conditioning and strength from last year and set a good foundation in the off-season.”

One he hopes will get his job back come September.


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