First, a confession: I was one of the people writing many months ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs should make a trade for Roberto Luongo. Like everyone else, I was not convinced James Reimer had the goods to be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, at least not right away, and if the Leafs could get an elite one like Luongo it was a necessary move.
But that was then and that was Luongo. Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is still too unreasonable in his demands by the looks of it, so Leafs GM David Nonis is kicking the tires on the Calgary Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff.
However, now that Reimer is proving most of us wrong and that he does have what it takes to be a No. 1 (albeit with some work ahead of him on consistency), Nonis needs to tread carefully. And he is, despite the fact some folks are getting mighty excited by the fact he received permission to talk to Kiprusoff and his agent about a move to Toronto and what that might take in the way of a contract extension.
The important thing to remember about what Nonis told the media about his hope to land a goaltender with NHL playoff experience is this: “I have to caution everybody that it’s only if it makes sense for us and if the price tag is reasonable. If not, we’re comfortable with what we have.”
It is believed Nonis already told Flames GM Jay Feaster he will not cough up a first-round draft pick for the 36-year-old Kiprusoff. And Nonis also said he is not interested in giving up a young roster player or highly-regarded prospect for someone like Kiprusoff, who is entering the last lap of his career. If Nonis could land a young goalie with promise like Jonathan Bernier that would be a different story but it looks like the Los Angeles Kings will hang on to him until the summer.
This leaves considerable doubt about the wisdom of getting Kiprusoff, from the price tag to his disturbing numbers this season and what they say about his future, to his family situation.
After getting pulled in the first period Monday night for allowing three goals on six shots, Kiprusoff has a 3.64 goals-against average and .868 save percentage, which are ranked 48th and 47th, respectively, in the NHL. Considering the state of the Flames and their defence, these numbers should not be blamed solely on Kiprusoff, but they do raise other questions.
For example, no one has ever accused Kiprusoff of being a fitness fanatic. It is not unknown for players like that to fall off suddenly once the inevitable decline with age sets in. There are a few who can stop or reverse the trend with a sudden dedication to fitness, like Martin Brodeur, but he’s been the best goalie in the world for a long time.
When Mike Keenan, who was Kiprusoff’s coach when he signed his current contract, opines on Sportsnet that it was understood the goaltender would retire rather than play out the last year on the contract, which calls for a $1.5-million (all currency U.S.) salary but has a cap hit of $5.8-million in 2013-14, then the chances of him agreeing to a new deal with Nonis seem less likely.
If Kiprusoff tells Nonis he would only consider a trade if he gets a contract beyond next season, the Leaf GM again has reason to pause. The Leafs have around $20-million in salary-cap room for next season but eating up almost $6-million of it with Kiprusoff plus several million more the following season is not a move to consider lightly. But Nonis would have some time to think about that because he could not formally sign a deal with the goaltender until July.
There is also Kiprusoff’s family situation. His wife recently gave birth to their second child and Kiprusoff has indicated he does not want to go through a move right now.
Since Reimer is cruising along with a save percentage of .920, you might wonder why Nonis is so interested in Kiprusoff. Well, he did post a .921 save percentage last season and he has lots of playoff experience, including a Stanley Cup final in 2004.
Presumably, Kiprusoff would be brought in with the understanding he would share the job with Reimer, 25, and be insurance if the younger fellow falters in the playoffs. Kiprusoff would get quite a few starts in the Leafs’ last 12 regular-season games, which would give them an indication if he still has anything in the tank.
Finally, there is the question of how to guide Reimer through all of this. He is a level-headed young man but seeing his job being bandied about and the realization it means management is not fully convinced he is up to the job cannot be easy.
Then again, presumably Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle have fully explained what they have in mind for him and why this is being done. Anything otherwise would be foolish in the extreme.
All things considered, Nonis would be better off settling for a lower-profile solution like Nikolai Khabibulin of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s 40 and will be a free agent this summer but has played well in the eight appearances he’s made this season.
Khabibulin would be a far less threatening presence to Reimer but still good enough to be short-term insurance if there are any problems.