TORONTO – James Reimer carries the chip on his shoulder quietly and without malice.
The 24-year-old has heard the questions, doubts and trade speculation after a trying season which saw his tenuous mantle atop the Toronto crease plunged into uncertainty. No question looms larger for Leafs general manager Dave Nonis than the one currently lingering in goal. Reimer sat down with TSN.ca on Monday afternoon to tackle doubts about his future, chatter with Nonis, and his early impressions of Rick St. Croix, the organization's new goaltending coach.
I don't perceive you as the kind of guy who carries a chip on his shoulder and yet I would feel like in this situation there's probably a part of you that wants to show people, listen I can do this.
Definitely. Any time there's doubters you want to prove them wrong and there's all the rumours that were flying around you, obviously you want to play the best that you can. But when it comes down to it all I really care about is the guys in the room, the coaching staff and obviously the close circle of support people I have in my life. Those are the people I want to play well for – obviously myself as well – but those are the people I work hard for and lay everything on the line for.
Did you have doubts though coming into the year, just based on the injuries and everything that happened last year? Was there any doubt for you?
Not really. No more than anybody else has doubts about their own game [with] not playing for 10 months. I felt confident in my abilities. I felt confident in my health. Like I said, I was ready to go. And so no I didn't have too many doubts coming in.
Was that the biggest hurdle, just getting back to full health where you don't have to worry about anything but actually playing?
Yeah I think that's a big thing. Any time you come back from an injury I think sometimes you worry how it's going to react when you come back playing hard, not even in a game, but in practice and stuff like that. Like I said, I was ready to go from the get-go and everything's been great. Hopefully we can keep that going.
Dave Nonis had mentioned that you and him had talked, had a conversation where he just wanted to clarify to you and probably to Ben, that it's not that they doubt the quality of goaltending that you can provide, it's just the inexperience factor. Does that help clarify the situation for you?
Definitely. Dave Nonis, like I've said, he's just going to be a great GM. In the experience and time I've had with him I have nothing but good things to say about him. That communication's great. You know where you stand. You understand what's going through his head and you can go forward with confidence. Obviously his point is a valid one and it's good to know that he has faith in us and the only thing he's worried about is experience, which none of us can control.
You can't get experience without playing...
You can't buy it, you can't trade for it – in our case – you can't find it under a rock out there. All we can do is work hard in practice and keep fighting and keep giving our team a best chance possible to win. We'll leave those tough decisions up to him.
I guess you can prove with your play that [in]experience is less of a factor.
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Experience is experience. When you have a guy's that played in certain situations that's valuable. But if me and [Ben Scrivens] shut the door and play well it does become less [of an issue]. We'll see. All me and [Scrivens] are worried about is playing the best we can and fighting to make every save and then we make those tough business and player decisions up to Nonis.
Do you have a goal for the season?
Win. Win and play well. I don't look too far ahead. Maybe it's weird, but I don't set too many goals. Like today, I just wanted to take advantage of the day and work hard and not cheat myself and just try and get better. That's the same thing for tomorrow. Obviously on game days it's to win the game, but just play hard [in general].
What's the biggest change that Rick has made?
With Rick, first and foremost he's a great guy. He's been great with me and [Scrivens]. He's there more as a resource. He's played the game before and he knows what's going through your head and he knows what it takes to win and be a successful goaltender. And he's worked with a lot of great goaltenders, i.e. Eddie Belfour, who is my favourite goaltender. We just talk about certain little tweaks here and there, what to do in certain situations, how to play the puck here. But there's no real set information on what to do in certain plays. [He'll just say] 'What would you like to do in this situation? This is what I think you should do, but how do you feel doing it?' And it's just great, you can bounce ideas off him. He has a wealth of knowledge and you can make calculated decisions based on how much knowledge he has.