TORONTO – James Reimer is no stranger to trade deadline intrigue. Back in 2009 he was dealt by the Reading Royals to the South Carolina Stingrays at the East Coast Hockey League deadline.
"That's a crazy story," the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie said on Monday with his trademark toothy grin. "My now wife was visiting me and we just went to the rink, because I wanted to show her the room and stuff like that and the coach was there and he pulled me aside while I was there and said I had been traded to South Carolina. We packed up the car and drove through the night [from Reading, PA to North Charleston, SC] and played the next day. It was a crazy situation. It was good though. I was fortunate that I went to a great team."
That deal was designed to help Reimer get some playoff experience and now, four years later, his lack of NHL playoff experience has the Leafs considering bringing in some veteran insurance. Whether they need it or not is certainly up for debate.
Reimer is 13-4-4 this season with a .920 save percentage. He has been especially good of late posting a 4-0-3 record in his last seven games (.930 save percentage in that stretch). But he has apparently not done enough to convince general manager Dave Nonis to fully trust him down the stretch and into the franchise's first playoff berth in nine years.
"It's up to him," said Reimer. "I feel like I've played well and, you know, I don't have too many regrets. Obviously, four losses, I'd rather it be zero losses, you know, but Nonis is good at what he does, he's really good at what he does, and there's going to be no bitterness if he decides to bring someone in. He gets paid to make those big decisions about the team. I don't envy his job."
Then, as is the case in Toronto, Reimer is asked the same question in a little bit of a different way.
"Right now, honestly, it's whatever," he said. "You know coming in [to] the last couple of games you only have a few chances to show what you can do and that's how I approached them and right now there's literally nothing you can do. I mean, I can sit there and be worried and have anxiety and what not and stressing out about it, but there's nothing I can do about it so you simply don't worry about it."
The knock against Reimer, who turned 25 on March 15, is that he lacks playoff experience. But how does one gain such experience without, you know, playing in the NHL playoffs?
"I guess that's the Catch 22, right?" he said with a chuckle.
Reimer insists he is not the playoff neophyte some make him out to be. He has learned from his games in the ECHL playoffs in 2009 and the 2007 Western Hockey League playoffs when his Red Deer Rebels dropped a seven-game first-round series against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
"In the playoffs there are momentum swings, they're crazy obviously, you just have to learn to field them and keep battling through them. Obviously I don't think my stats were great in the Dub in the playoffs (.871 save percentage and 3.88 goals against average), but that was the point. The other goalies weren't great in that round either. It was just a high-scoring affair and it was going back and forth and you just had to make that next save, make that next save and if you get down by one or two goals you can't let down, because we were coming right back.
"It was a ton of fun. It's the best hockey obviously so you just have to learn to stay even keel, because it can be an emotional roller-coaster, especially with the fans and what not. You got to stay even keeled and super focused."
The ECHL playoff run with South Carolina provided some strange challenges.
"It was a weird dynamic, because we split the playoffs, me with the other goalie, he actually played more games than I did and it's a grind and every game is so important. I remember in the second round, Game 6, I think the other team was probably better than us and we squeaked out the win in overtime. If it would have gone to Game 7 then who knows what would have happened. And then we go on from there and win the whole thing so every game is so important and every play is so important. It's crazy. It can mean so much, one win or one loss so, you know, it's just a grind and you realize one play could be the difference in a playoff run."
The Kelly Cup championship series was against the Alaska Aces. "It's not quite on the East Coast is it?" Reimer quipped.
The Stingrays jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but dropped Game 5 at home and then had to go way up north for the final two games. Reimer, named MVP of the championship series, got the call in the deciding the game and made 26 saves in a 4-2 victory.
The atmosphere in Alaska, Reimer believes, will help him be ready for some of the more intense playoff rinks in the NHL.
"My goalie counterpart, he played one of the games there, and I remember he said he got hit by pennies when he was out on the ice after Game 1 or something. It was crazy. It was a crazy atmosphere."
Reimer's numbers in the ECHL playoffs: .929 save percentage, 2.17 goals against average in eight games.
Reimer admits he isn't sure how big a step up a NHL playoff game will be versus those in the ECHL.
"It's hard to say, because I've never been at a game, a playoff game, a NHL playoff game [even as a fan], so from not having been there I'm not really sure. I remember Game 7 in the East Coast, for the championship, I'm pretty sure that's pretty equal to a first round playoff matchup.
"I take the experiences like our last game in Ottawa. If there ever was a playoff atmosphere that kind of felt like one and things worked out well so I think in playoffs the pressure's a little more and the excitement's a little more so you pull on the games that were big. You look at my first year when we went on that run towards the end literally we were playing playoff hockey for the last month so you can pull things from different situations like that."
Reimer admits he may turn on the television on Wednesday when the deadline extravaganza starts. So will there be a Tradecentre party at Chez Reimer?
"Who knows?" Reimer says with an uneasy laugh. "No, I don't know, ah, I'm not quite sure. I think that's a day before a game. It's a day before Philly so I'll probably be getting ready for Philly. Obviously, who knows, things could change drastically on that day, but, like I said, the day before a game usually I'm thinking about the opponent we're playing and not about my future so that's what I'll be worried about."
Reimer has faced so much in the last two seasons. There was the concussion that derailed his sophomore NHL campaign and raised questions about his status as the club's goalie of the future. Reimer then watched as Ben Scrivens, in mid-season form due to a lockout stint in the American Hockey League, started this season as the No. 1 guy. Then, after he seemed to seize the starting job, a knee strain again set him back again. Now, finally, he seems to be on track. So you wouldn't blame him for saying he feels he deserves a shot to be the guy, the only guy, down the stretch. Deserves the trust. Deserves a full vote of confidence.
But that's not his style.
"Obviously, we trust Nonis and the management team to do what they think is best for the team and obviously they're looking out for the player to, but obviously the team's the most important thing," Reimer said when questioned about the deadline for what seems like the gazillionth time. "They're going to make the decision that they feel is right and we're going to go with it and run with it. I get paid to stop pucks that's all. You know what I mean? I don't get paid to worry about what other people might do. He's a smart guy and I trust him and I'm sure he's going to do the right thing.
"I understand if they feel they need somebody else then they feel they need somebody else, but I know, if given the opportunity, I'll do what I always do: try to work as hard as I can, as honestly as I can and try to give the guys the best chance possible."