The process of developing into a starting goaltender in the NHL can be a long journey. It comes with its fair share of ups and downs, but for few it has managed to all pay off one day. In the case of James Reimer, who’s in his first season with the Florida Panthers, it is beginning to look like an ideal situation.
James Reimer’s Ideal Situation
Since being selected 99th overall in the fourth round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Reimer has always had his doubters. He never had true job security or resounding confidence from his team or the fans. Not being one of the most technically sound or smooth looking goalies, he has consistently been a long shot to make it as a true starter, despite the Morweena, Manitoba native always bringing nothing but effort and dedication, two traits that have been on display since the day he broke into the NHL.
During his time with the Leafs, Reimer put up great numbers. In 2013, he backstopped the Leafs to their first playoff appearance in seven seasons. Down 3-1 to the Boston Bruins in the first round, Reimer kept his team alive, only allowing two goals on 74 shots the next two games to force a game seven. Toronto lost in the infamous game seven in historic fashion, but that series gave Reimer the opportunity to showcase his potential. The only problem, however, was that the Leafs still did not see Reimer as their future goalie.
This past off-season, the Panthers finally offered the 28-year-old something he never had with the Leafs, security and confidence. He signed a five-year, $17 million dollar contract, and was brought in to take some of the load off of aging goalie, Roberto Luongo, and possibly develop into the future starter. So far, his situation looks like a perfect one for both Reimer and the Panthers.
Last year Reimer had the league’s highest 5-on-5 save percentage and this season he ranks a very respectable third. He only trails the Capitals’ Braden Holtby and the Wild’s Devon Dubnyk. He has improved on that stat throughout the campaign.
James Reimer's 5v5 SV% this season has an easy to interpret trend pic.twitter.com/j9ufMzLvdw
And while Reimer has been getting better, Luongo has struggled in his 16th NHL season. His save percentage has dropped from .922 to .913 and the 37-year-old’s 5-on-5 ‘high danger’ save percentage is .784, down significantly from .826 last year. That said, however, there are some rumours that Luongo has been fighting an injury for the past few weeks.
Even with the Panthers only three points out of a playoff spot with Luongo as their starter all year, he thinks his teammate, Reimer, should be starting. “Right now I don’t deserve to be playing. That’s the bottom line,” he told the Miami Herald on Sunday. “For me everything is about the team and us winning games. James Reimer gives us a better chance to win every night than I am. Until I figure my [game] out this is the way it should go I think.”
But even with his improvements, Reimer still isn’t the most polished goalie in the league. He has not played over 40 games in a single season, has a career save percentage of .915 (low among NHL starting goalies), needs to improve on his rebound control a bit more, and hasn’t been the greatest when his team is short-handed. With that being said, Reimer’s game continues to trend in the right direction.
There are some goalies that reach high-level play early on in their careers, such as Luongo, Carey Price, and Patrick Roy. For others, it sometimes takes a little bit longer to figure out their game and fully develop. Many say goalies hit their stride or peak around their late 20’s. And there are many examples in today’s game, such as the Wilds’ Dubynk, the Coyotes’ Mike Smith, and most recently the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss and the Oilers’ Cam Talbot.
A common theme between Reimer and those that are beginning to figure out their game is that they are all on different teams than those that originally drafted them or they first played for. This is important to point out because once an organization has an impression on an individual it’s hard for the player to change that, especially a goalie. The next team allows an opportunity to create a new impression.
The Panthers are stacked with young talent on both their forward lines and defence, and as a team and individuals, have only got better from last year’s playoff experience. With Luongo’s game slowly beginning to head south, the signing of Reimer came at the right time for the organization. Reimer has shown flashes of elite goalie potential, and with his situation in Florida he has the opportunity to display his ability more consistently. The Panthers are in his corner offering confidence, security, and perhaps most importantly, opportunity. There should not be a trace of doubt that Reimer and the Panthers are in an ideal situation.