TORONTO – James Reimer is ready to hit the reset button.
As the Toronto Maple Leafs returned to Air Canada Centre on Monday to empty their lockers, the sense of relief was impossible for the 24-year-old goaltender to hide.
Not only was he anxious to move on from a difficult season, but he was able to do so after receiving promising news for the future. Reimer visited with a specialist in Montreal over the weekend and learned that his injury troubles are linked to a neck issue rather than a concussion.
“It was actually outstanding news for me,” he said. “I have absolutely no qualms going forward for next year or for the rest of my career. It kind of almost wiped the slate clean.”
The injury cast a shadow over a season that began with promise for Reimer and the Maple Leafs. After signing a US$5.4-million, three-year contract in the summer, he was pencilled into the No. 1 role and began the year with wins in four of five games.
In the sixth game, Montreal Canadiens captain Brian Gionta collided with Reimer in the crease and knocked the Leafs goalie out for more than a month. He also finished the season on the sidelines after taking a shot in practice in late March and experiencing a return of concussion-like symptoms.
The specialist told Reimer that he wouldn’t require any surgery to correct the neck issue.
“It’s something that’s really, really fixable,” said Reimer. “So hopefully it should be no problem going forward.”
The Leafs have been unable to find any stability in goal since the lockout, which has played a major role in their league-leading playoff drought of seven seasons. The franchise used 15 different goaltenders over that period—second only to the 18 employed by Tampa Bay.
There’s a strong possibility of more change for next season, with backup Jonas Gustavsson set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Ben Scrivens could be promoted to join Reimer in the crease or general manager Brian Burke might elect to add a more experienced goaltender through trade or free agency.
No matter what happens, Reimer is anxious to show that his hot run as a rookie last season was no fluke and that he still has the ability to become a reliable No. 1.
“Not having the success I wanted (this season), it gives me motivation to try and be that guy next year and years going forward,” he said.
Reimer finished the season with a 14-14-4 record, .900 save percentage and 3.10 goals-against average.
Even when healthy, he acknowledged that he didn’t feel quite as comfortable in the goal as he should have. It made it challenging for the happy-go-lucky sophomore to keep the ever-present smile on his face while at the rink.
“The biggest thing to me is being honest and playing the best that I can play,” said Reimer. “That’s where it became frustrating for me because even though I was working hard and trying to be honest, especially in practice, I still felt that I wasn’t playing to the best of my abilities.”
Reimer hopes he’ll emerge stronger for the experience.
The level of scrutiny he was under in his first full NHL season was much greater than anything he endured during his unexpected run in the second half of 2010-11. It will make him that much more motivated this summer.
“The list of all the things I learned this year is huge,” said Reimer. “You never want to have a tough season because you always want to win, but hopefully in 15 years when I look back on my career I’ll see this as one of the most valuable years of my life.”
Notes: Leafs GM Brian Burke and coach Randy Carlyle are expected to conduct end-of-season interviews on Tuesday … Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf will represent Canada at next month’s IIHF World Hockey Championship for the second straight year … Phil Kessel, who led the Leafs with 37 goals, said he was hampered by a wrist injury for the last month of the season.