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.

324 Responses to The Big Free Agent The Leafs Must Chase

  1. reinjosh says:

    To be fair the Stastny, this is an off season. Of the 5 season's he has played in, 3 (including his rookie season) he was above 70 point territory. The other season (no including this one), he was injured. Of that list, he and Spezza are really the only two who have proven they can be first line centers.

    Interesting thoughts on Grabo. It's possible that all we need is a center for Kessel. That way both Grabo's and Kessel's line become scoring lines rather than one – two scoring.

  2. leafmeister says:

    I will completely write it off if he does it again next year. For me, that will clear up any remaining doubt. He will probably hit 60 points this year which is good, but if he is going to be a scoring center, 60 points has to be the rule, not the exception.

    No one can question his skill, I dont really question his drive any more, I just question his ability to hold it all together consistently.

  3. reinjosh says:

    And yet he has consistently played on a pace for 50 points in the three years he has been in the league. Consistency isn't an issue. Your splitting hairs over 50 – 60 points. If Kessel gets a center and gets going in a season, 50 points is more than reasonable and acceptable. Its not an issue and it sort of ridiculous that even having answered the questions of skill and the questions of drive that he people are still doubting him.

  4. mojo19 says:

    Ya, and I think Bozak is a legit NHL'er without question, it would just be nice for him to work on faceoffs and fix that +/- of his. Maybe he needs to take the focus off of offense sometimes and play 3rd line. If we had depth down the middle that could be an option to move him, but this year we were kind of handcuffed and had to keep playing him through his slumps (*except briefly when he was slumping real bad and we moved Boyce up onto the Crabb-Kessel line. Kessel must have loved that.)

    Let's just land a big center this summer for *****'s sake.

  5. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I believe the problem is more with Kessel than it is with Bozak, believe it or not. The more I watch Kessel, I believe Bozak's +/- and lack of production this year has a lot to do with Kessel's lack of effort to forecheck, backcheck and play hard in both ends of the rink. Kessel barely ever wins a puck battle on the boards, he never hits, and is uninterested in defensive play on most occasions…this is bound to hurt Bozak's +/-. It's why his and Kessels +/- are similar. Bozak needs to improve defensively, no doubt. But, is his +/- all his fault?

    The other thing is that Kessel does not compete hard and Bozak is not really much better. On the nights they both compete the line looks great. On nights they don't compete hard they look like crap.

    Don't get me wrong, Kessel is very talented with a great shot and I would like to keep him. I honestly don't think a so-called up grade at centre will help Kessel unless he learns to compete harder on a regular basis. He had 36 goals playing with Savard and Lucic…He has 29 so far playing with Bozak and Lupul. Is the problem really just Bozak? I don't think it is.

  6. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I understand the thoughts on Stastny and Spezza…I was just comparing this year. The other names are names that people on this site have suggested or have been suggested on the sports news elsewhere at times throughout the year. My opionion is, I am not sure if any of them would be an upgrade on Grabo…

  7. reinjosh says:

    Kessel was a high plus player playing on the Bruins. He may not be great defensively, but he has shown multiple times this year (more late than anything) that he is better than most people give him credit for. I would look to Wilson putting him out there in the final minutes of many of the games as an indication of what Wilson thinks of his defensive game.

    I would say that when Kessel scored 36, he was less mature and hadn't grown as much. He was learning how to score. 36 goals is no small feat at the age he was then. Now he was forced to score without a capable center last year and hit thirty. Give him that center and he takes the next step. Sometimes two players don't mesh. Bozak and Kessel have a little but I still don't think Bozak has top line playmaking ability or top line scoring ability. Kessel needs both to be a fully effective player.

  8. Leafs_the_word says:

    Grabo is gravy right now, with another season on his deal at cost we get another season to evaluate him, if he follows up with another strong year he's fit to be a long term second line center/fixture in the top six.  If he falters then it didn't cost us much anyway.  No rush but I wouldn't hesitate to petal him in a bigger deal in the off season.

    Three scoring lines?  Me thinks Burke is set on the top six bottom six model, I see him getting another Armstrong like player for the third line (yep, another super exciting off season looming), so another spark plug for a broken engine.

  9. LeafFansAreGay says:

    What a garbage team the laffs are.

  10. LeafFansAreGay says:

    Garbagovski is having a fluke year. Next year he'll suck like always.

  11. LeafFansAreGay says:

    The Laffs won't have a chance when the pressures on. Teams that suck never win when the games are big. No chance for the laffs against the Sabres.

  12. reinjosh says:

    I think I would agree with you on everyone of them but Stastny and maybe Spezza.

  13. LeafFansAreGay says:

    The Laffs are garbage. The only reason they fluked off these wins is because they played garbage teams (minny and avs) and no pressure. In pressure games the laffs will suck again like always.

  14. Leafs_the_word says:


  15. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    All good points on Kessel, Josh. I do think Kessel would benefit from a more rounded centreman. Yes, kessel was a plus player with Boston but he also played with Savard and Lucic with Chara usually on the point when he was on the ice…a little upgrade from what he has now to play with. They helped cover for a lot of Kessel's mistakes defensively.

    As for Wilson playing him in the last minutes of a close game…I don't put much faith in most decisions Wilson makes. Wilson would have Kessel on the ice in the last minute of a game to protect a lead instead of Armsrtong when he was healthy, which is just stupid.

    Other than the Wilson reference…you made a lot of good points.

  16. realistic_leafs_fan says:

    I hate to agree with LFAG, but since we beat Boston both times during our recent strong play, I guess he's right…we can only beat garbage teams.

  17. NonLeafFansAreGay says:

    make that 5-1 too

    the bruins, other than kaberle, are a complete joke.
  18. Leafs_the_word says:

    I dunno, Mark Savard is a beast after he takes his Paxil.

  19. leafy says:

    Detroit is so friggin annoying. One thing I can't stand is teams that can check.

    Well this year looks all but over. The good news is the team's getting better.

    Dion Phaneuf, say what you want about him, but he's just as erratic (if not MORE erratic) than Bryan McCabe, who most people hated.

  20. NonLeafFansAreGay says:

    bruins are horrid

  21. frankinboltonleafs says:

    They are not an upgrade on Grabovski. Every guy on that list is an upgrade on Bozak, Brent, Boyce, (Boyce!), Kadri for whatever you'd call the Lupul Kessel line….1st, 2nd whatever. We need another top 2 C ….not a vet goalie, not another D….a top 2 C.

  22. Ghostrider1174 says:

    I disagree. Brad Richards is the best UFA out there that the Leafs need. But they do need to get another solid goalie as Gus's injury problems will be a concern. Reimer deserves a chance to be our #1 for sure. Whatever happpens Burkle will make a big move no matter what this off-season to get that #1 center.

  23. Ghostrider1174 says:

    Grabs is not a first line center sorry.At best hes a second and if he can keep it together all 82 games.

  24. Ghostrider1174 says:

    I agree Stas would be a younger and probably better than Richards but Brad is in no way a mistake even if they do give him the money. Anyway i look at it Burke has set the tables for a big move this off-season to get the 1st line center we need.

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