James Reimer, who battled a concussion and other injuries to get his NHL career back on track, was chosen as the Toronto Maple Leafs' nominee for the 2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
The award goes to an NHL player who shows perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, as selected in a vote by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Reimer, 25, was chosen as the Leafs' nominee by the Toronto chapter of the PHWA.
Reimer is the main reason the Leafs clinched an NHL playoff berth this week for the first time in nine years. He backed their improved defensive game under head coach Randy Carlyle with a 2.38 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 32 games this season, posting a 19-7-5 record going into Toronto's last game of the regular season, Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre against the Montreal Canadiens.
Reimer's save percentage of .926 is the highest mark achieved by a Leafs goaltender since the NHL started keeping the statistic in the 1983-84 season. Currently, he is in the NHL's top five at that number among goaltenders who play regularly.
But Reimer did not have an easy path to becoming the Leafs' most important player. The native of Morweena, Man., was not considered one of the Leafs' top prospects after being taken 99th overall in the 2006 NHL entry draft. He spent time in the ECHL in his first pro season, 2008-09, but eventually worked his way up to the No. 1 job with the Leafs' top farm team, the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
Thanks to injuries to J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, Reimer was called up to the Leafs during the 2010-11 season and went on a remarkable run over 37 games. He posted a 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage and a 20-10-5 record although the Leafs fell short of the playoffs.
But early in the following season, after a strong 4-0-1 start, Reimer suffered a concussion and was not the same goaltender after he returned. He finished the 2011-12 season with a 3.10 GAA, .900 save percentage and a 14-14-4 record.
Throughout the summer of 2012 and during the lockout, there was persistent talk the Leafs wanted to trade for veteran goaltender Roberto Luongo. There were talks with the Vancouver Canucks but the teams could not agree on a price and a deal with the Calgary Flames for Miikka Kiprusoff fell through at the trade deadline last month when the goaltender decided not to waive his no-trade rights.
However, Reimer ignored the trade talk, stuck to his game and bounced back to lead the Leafs back to respectability. But he also had to deal with a knee injury this season that kept him on the sidelines for two weeks.
The last Maple Leaf to win the Masterton Trophy was Jason Blake in 2008. Leafs forward Phil Kessel won the award in 2007 when he played for the Boston Bruins. Both players successfully fought off different forms of cancer.