TORONTO - Conversations between the Leafs and 36-year-old Miikka Kiprusoff extended late into the evening on Tuesday and continued again early on Wednesday morning. But ultimately, after much consideration, the Flames aging goaltender decided to remain in Calgary, returning the focus to incumbent James Reimer as the Leafs inch toward their first playoff berth in nine years.
"I've talked to James already," general manager Dave Nonis said early Wednesday evening, shortly after the 3 p.m. deadline expired. "It's not about his ability. We're fine with his ability and actually his play has been exceptional, it's just about getting some experience with him to help him and there's nothing more to it than that with bringing Kiprusoff in."
Attempts to land the former Vezina Trophy winner were very nearly realized. Granted permission to speak with Kiprusoff by the Flames, Nonis sensed optimism and excitement from the Finnish netminder, but noted an underlying apprehension, a feeling of "not having his heart in it 100 per cent and coming here and letting us down".
"When I spoke with him he sounded engaged and interested," Nonis said, "but there's other things that go into these decisions. He has a new baby, he has other things on his mind and to his credit he didn't want to take a contract extension and come to Toronto without being fully committed and engaged and I appreciated the heads up early in the day as opposed to making a deal and having it not work out."
Despite assertions to the contrary, attempts to land Kiprusoff were about securing the crease with a veteran of elite credentials, thus revealing uncertainty as it relates to Reimer's readiness for such a role in the near-to-immediate future. While the 25-year-old has certainly thrived as the starter this season, compiling a 13-4-4 record along with a solid .920 save percentage, he and 26-year-old backup Ben Scrivens lack the weighty resume of a goaltender like Kiprusoff. Sensing opportunity to make noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs next month, the Leafs clearly desired that level of sturdiness, the willingness to assume his contract next season - $5.8 million hit on a $64 million cap - and the mere discussion of an extension only confirming such a notion.
"You need more than one goalie," Nonis said when questioned on the subject. "Having someone mentor you in this business, whether it's in net or on the back-end or down the middle, it doesn't hurt. That was something that we had looked at and that was one of our goals and as we said, if it wasn't going to come to fruition it wasn't a devastating blow to us. We weren't crushed today that we weren't able to get Kiprusoff to come because we felt that we had two quality guys here."
Opportunity will remain in Reimer's grasp following the increasingly public chase for Kiprusoff. With a 31-save shutout in his last performance against Ottawa, his response, most critically in the upcoming playoffs, could go a long way toward strengthening his case as the Leafs goaltender of now and the future. Any prospective pursuits of replacements would thus fall by the way-side.
"Coaches and management have all the right in the world to do whatever they want," Reimer said shortly before the deadline. "They're the ones that give us the opportunity to play here so if they want to, in essence, take that away it's their right. I'm just thankful and feel blessed for the opportunity I've had so far."
And while they were willing to bite on Kiprusoff, the Leafs did ultimately resist repeated pleas from Vancouver for Roberto Luongo, a round of last-hour offers from the Canucks turned down, this according to TSN's Darren Dreger.
Addressing perhaps a more pressing need, Nonis did land help on defence, adding sturdiness and experience in 28-year-old Ryan O'Byrne from Colorado. A right-handed shot, O'Byrne brings a dose of stability to the Leaf defence, very much in the Randy Carlyle mold with imposing stature and a rough defensive brand. Paired with John-Michael Liles for nearly a full season in Colorado - back in 2010-2011 - the B.C. native could start his Leafs career there when the Flyers come to town on Thursday evening. An impending unrestricted free agent, O'Byrne also adds much-needed playoff experience, 19 games on his resume, all with Montreal.