When the Toronto Maple Leafs became the first team in NHL history to lose a Game 7 after leading by three goals in the third period, fantasy owners probably weren't expecting an endorsement of the team's goaltending only a few months later.
But when reflecting on James Reimer's development over the past year and the team's acquisition of former Los Angeles Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, the future looks crowded -- and bright -- in Toronto's crease.
So, just about as suddenly as their lead slipped away in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the case can be made that the Leafs sport the League's best timeshare fantasy goalie tandem.
Bernier brings a ton of upside to Toronto after playing in the shadow of Jonathan Quick since entering the League. He allowed two goals or less in 11 of his 14 outings during the shortened season, and was one of only four goalies with a save percentage greater than .920 and a goals-against average lower than 2.00.
He remains unproven in that he has only appeared in 62 career games since entering the NHL in 2007-08, but brings a 2.36 career GAA to Toronto, where he'll be given a chance to start more often – likely without the burden of a 60 or 70-game workload.
Reimer, meanwhile, has dealt with negative perception after Toronto collapsed in a big spot against the Bruins while he manned the crease. But, despite that forgettable loss, there are many positives to take from his emergence as the Leafs' starter last season.
He was a huge reason why the Leafs snapped their lengthy playoff drought and his ability to stop 72 of 74 combined shots on goal in Games 5 and 6 against Boston helped Toronto overcome a 3-1 deficit and take the series the distance. Reimer's playing time during the shortened season (33 appearances) can be compared to his workload in 2011-12 (34), but his production this past season drew rave reviews from fantasy owners. He had 19 wins and set career bests in GAA (2.46) and save percentage (.924).
Reimer's regular season was a huge step forward, but the bottom line is that if he didn't fall victim to a historic rally in the playoffs, Toronto likely would not have gone out of its way to trade for Bernier. For that reason, one can expect Bernier to be the leading candidate entering training camp to land the No. 1 goalie job.
But that can certainly change in a flash, which is why targeting both could be most beneficial in fantasy. Another positive to consider is that, regardless of which player gets the nod more often, Toronto had the second-best penalty kill unit in the NHL last season (87.9 percent), and the team's top-six forward arsenal is expected to consistently give both goalies offensive support.
Toronto's goalie battle can be compared to the current ones in St. Louis, Anaheim and New Jersey, but the Leafs' situation appears to be even more promising than the others from a fantasy standpoint.
The Ducks have the only returning pair of goalies where each -- Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth -- posted 15-plus wins last season. They paid fantasy dividends despite near-even totals in games played (Hiller 26, Fasth 25), but with Hiller's contract expiring next offseason and prospect John Gibson waiting in the wings, this package deal is much less of a sure thing next season.
In St. Louis, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott are entering contract years and each will compete for time while making a case to be in the team's future plans. When healthy, we've learned over the years that St. Louis goalies are a quality option – both individually or as a tandem -- but we've also seen how unpredictable they can be when the Blues deal with injuries or decide to ride the hot hand. With sleeper Jake Allen (9-4-0 last season) also in the mix, St. Louis' goalie competition presents red flags for fantasy owners looking for reliability.
The Devils, meanwhile, must balance playing time between the winningest goalie of all time, Martin Brodeur, and the NHL's most efficient one over the last three seasons, Cory Schneider. Retirement could be looming for Brodeur when his contract ends after this season, and Schneider has never played more than 33 games in a single season. New Jersey plays a League-high 22 back-to-back games in 2013-14, so each goalie will get starts by default, but it's far from a given that New Jersey will be a playoff team after losing Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson.
Toronto's pair of netminders should be able to focus solely on the competition that looms, considering Reimer will only be a restricted free agent next offseason and the Leafs didn't deal him over the summer after bringing in Bernier. Each of these goalies is 25 years old with something to prove, which bodes well for their fantasy value.
With only 30 to 40 fantasy-relevant goalies in the NHL entering the new season, your draft strategy can make or break your team. If you like what you saw from Reimer last season and believe in Bernier's potential, don't hesitate to grab this tandem after stocking up on premier forwards and defensemen.
Your best bet is to draft Bernier once other timeshare goalies start going off the board and then grab Reimer a few rounds later. If you think investing in two goalies from the same team is the right move for your fantasy squad, the Leafs have the tandem worth taking a chance on.
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