The Big Free Agent The Leafs Must Chase

James Reimer has had a terrific little run. He stepped into the breach when the Leafs needed somebody – anybody – who could stop the puck with consistency, and turned the club from a team wallowing in the depths of the Eastern Conference into a squad that has at least been able to make the final weeks of the season interesting.

It’s clear Reimer has a chance to be a good NHL goalie, or maybe more.

But it’s also clear, as the soft goals have ac*****ulated in recent games, that he isn’t there yet.

That’s why the unrestricted free agent the Leafs must chase this summer isn’t Brad Richards.

It’s Ilya Bryzgalov, the outstanding netminder of the Phoenix Coyotes. Also a fellow, you may remember, who owes Brian Burke a favour.

Again, this isn’t dumping on Reimer, or giving up on him. He’s a kid who is still learning how to be a No. 1 netminder in the NHL. But that second goal against the Flyers last night was a killer, as was the first goal against Chicago on Saturday, and while there are any number of Leaf skaters who contributed to those defeats, you simply cannot win on a regular basis in the NHL with anything short of airtight goaltending.

The kind Bryzgalov that gives the Phoenix Coyotes. He shut out Calgary last night, his 20th shutout in four seasons with the club, and is again the top reason while the league-owned Coyotes are running so high in the Western Conference.

Reimer may develop into a top NHL goalie, but Bryzgalov already is, and just as the Leafs went out and signed Curtis Joseph as a free agent in 1998 to turn around a non-playoff team, now is the time to spend the dough on the 30-year-old Bryzgalov ($6 million per?) and give the club top-flight, reliable goaltending it desperately requires to move forward next season.

There is simply no way the Leafs can go into next fall uncertain about their goalkeeping again, unsure whether Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas or some other masked man can be the team’s starter.