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Siegel: Carlyle to let performance dictate goalie battle

Jonas Siegel

9/3/2013 11:15:56 PM

TORONTO – Randy Carlyle really doesn't see what all the fuss is about as it pertains to the looming intrigue of the Toronto crease.

"We added the goaltender based upon adding strength to the position," said Carlyle of the Jonathan Bernier acquisition this past summer. "I don't know how I can put it any plainer, any simpler."

According to the Leafs head coach, the decision to add Bernier from Los Angeles was not an indictment on James Reimer, who delivered a year of rare stability for Toronto goaltending in 2013, but an opportunity to pounce on a rising stock and thereby solidify the position beyond the 25-year-old incumbent.

"It's adding strength to a position that's very critical in the NHL," Carlyle explained from the team's annual charity golf tournament in Milton, Ontario. "You show me an NHL hockey club that made it anywhere in the playoffs or even qualified for the playoffs without A-quality goaltending. And that's what we're going to ask of both our goalies."

Reimer guided the Leafs to their first playoff berth in nine years with "A-quality goaltending", posting a sparkling .924 save percentage in 2013, amongst the best at the position in the lockout-shortened regular season. His performance, however impressive, was not enough though to squash lingering doubts about his viability as an NHL number one – despite assertions from the organization stating the contrary – his starting status immediately thrust into question with the addition of Bernier.

Leafs general manager Dave Nonis made it poignantly clear in the immediate aftermath of the trade, which sent Ben Scrivens and Matt Frattin to the Kings, that Reimer and Bernier would battle for playing time.

"I like to think that I was the guy that was here," said Reimer on Tuesday morning, ever diplomatic, "and so obviously that's a position I want to keep."

Itching for an opening in California, Bernier found himself stuck hopelessly behind Jonathan Quick, an opportunity set to present itself with the impending competition in Toronto. While he owns a limited track record – just 62 career games to 104 for Reimer – the organization believes that he has the tools to become a viable NHL starter, potential he's hinted at in the past, most recently in 2013 when the Quebec native strung together a 1.88 goals against average and .922 save percentage in 14 games.

"We're confident that we have two very, very capable goaltenders," said Dave Poulin, the Leafs VP of hockey operations, noting the viability of a tandem approach and benefits of internal competition.

Ultimately, the Leafs just need continued stability in goal, be it from Reimer, Bernier or both. Carlyle believes performance will sort out the matter.

"Because there's two of them, that creates a problem – both can't play at once," Carlyle concluded of the two competing netminders. "Our motto is going to go along the lines – and you always state this at the beginning of the season and sometimes it changes and there are factors that do take place over the course of the season that force you to change – but if you win, you're in. And that's pretty simple."