James Reimer never asked to leave Toronto. But he had the nerve to become a veteran asset, and in the Maple Leafs organization these days, that’s as good as telling off the boss.
Reimer currently arrives at the rink among a media throng of about five, strapping on the pads in a dressing room where his 27 years places him in the younger half of the San Jose Sharks demographic. He’s transitioned from a hopeless 30th place team, to a franchise that could go two or three rounds deep into the playoffs.
“Or four,” Reimer points out.
That’s how long it has taken for Reimer to turn the page, moving from an organization where the word “four” more aptly describes the number of regular seasons that will preceded a playoff berth, to a Sharks club that is everything that all these Canadian rebuilds are trying to emulate: a consistent program that challenges every year, about to make the playoffs for the 16th time in 18 seasons.
“It’s a totally different experience,” he said, moments after posting a 3-0 shutout in Edmonton Tuesday night. “A lot of great leaders, and guys who have done amazing things. I’m just learning, trying to keep getting better, so when I’ve played 15 years in this league hopefully I can be the same.”
It’s no slight on your former team to openly enjoy a new circumstance like this one. So you can count Reimer as the opposite reaction to poor Brooks Laich, who spent a dozen years in Washington only to get dealt to Toronto as his Capitals embark on a Stanley Cup run.
While the atmosphere in the GM’s box is the polar opposite in Northern California, the emotional tiller on San Jose’s bench is manned by far steadier hands than Reimer is accustomed to as well.
“It’s a lot more even keel,” he observes of the Sharks’ emotional graph. “Whether it’s ‘cause it’s not Toronto, or ‘cause they’ve got a million games played, combined… I don’t know what it is. But there are definitely less ups and downs. You get down a couple of goals and the bench is the same.
“There’s not much panic. You just do your job, have faith that your teammate will do his job, and you keep on rolling.”
San Jose rescued backup Martin Jones out of Los Angeles last summer, where his future lied buried behind incumbent Jonathan Quick, and he’s been more than fine this season with 33 wins and a .919 saves percentage. But Jones has never taken a team on a playoff run before, and as it turns out, San Jose's chances look better than even Sharks management imagined.
The Sharks are three points out of first place in the Pacific as of Wednesday, with plenty of hockey left to be played.
“We’re going to be playing in the playoffs … and we’re probably going to need both guys,” said head coach Peter DeBoer. “You know, we’ve put a lot on Jonesey’s plate through the first three-quarters of the season, and we needed to bring someone in here who’s had starter’s experience. Who had the type of resume that Reims has.
“And we knew he was a good teammate. That there wouldn’t be feathers ruffled.”
As any Leafs fan would attest, there might not be a more approachable, affable guy in the game than Reimer. Where some goalies won’t speak to media at a morning skate when they are slated to back up that night, Reimer is an open book, willing to kibitz long after a game when his teammates have all but vacated the dressing room.
“(Toronto) media, it’s not as bad as it’s cracked up to be,” he laughs. “In San Joe, there’s definitely less you have to worry about, so you just focus your time and effort at getting better at your craft.”
He’s still getting used to the Pacific Time Zone — “I’ve had a few friends call me and say that these late starts are killing them,” — but adjusting to playing for a winner is simply no adjustment at all.
And if you’re wondering about his unrestricted free agent status this summer, well, don’t stress Reimer out now. He’s as far away from that decision as the Leafs are from a playoff berth.
“You could tell me where I am better than I can,” he said. “I’m not set on anything, and I have no expectations. A lot can happen between now and July 1.
“Right now, I’m just focused on getting to that fourth round of the playoffs.”