Put your hand up if you saw any of this coming.
I am not referring to the fact the Leafs are in the bottom part of the league in points. Nope, most of us saw that coming. Simply put, you cannot ice a team full of players of this calibre and expect to be elite. It won’t happen.
What I am talking about is the interesting dynamic that is between the pipes for the Leafs and the Marlies.
During the summer months, it was my opinion that the Leafs could trade Bernier and run with Reimer and Bibeau. I knew that the Leafs put a lot of stock in Bibeau after last season and Sparks had equally impressed Leafs’ staff with his stellar play in Orlando in the ECHL. All of these factors lead to Chris Gibson being traded in the summer due to a surplus of goalies.
The season begins, with Bernier stumbling out of the gate. Babcock talks about Johnny Berns needing to step up to be the number one, all talk of being the ‘big dog’ is erased as Bernier lets in soft goal after soft goal. At this point, James Reimer is supposed to step up and take over the spot, right Reimer fans? Sure enough the Manitoba native does exactly that and goes on a terrific run in the net. Problem solved. Not so fast. Down goes Reimer with a lower body injury and Bernier is put back into the nets with his confidence at an all-time low. Carry the ball, Jonathan.
At this point, the Leafs bring up Antoine Bibeau. The young Marlies netminder is believed to be ahead of Sparks on the depth chart and gets called up to the big club. During this stretch of time while on the farm, Garret Sparks plays stellar hockey. An afterthought in many people’s minds on the goaltending roster, Sparks plays lights out hockey is named the AHL star of the week and eventually HE makes his way to the Leafs. Sparks gets the opportunity to start in the NHL and plays in 5 games putting up a 3-1-1 record in the show with a .915 save percentage. Life is good again, right? Not so fast.
As of these moves transpire, the continual bad play from Bernier, awards him a ten day conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies. All hell is now breaking loose on twitter and in chat rooms that Bernier is a ‘stiff’, and the trade was terrible to acquire him, etc. According to interviews with teammates at the Ricoh, Bernier takes the demotion like a champ, plays lights out and puts up three, yes THREE shutouts in a row at the AHL level. Conditioning stint over, Bernier is returned to the NHL and Sparks goes back to the Marlies……again not so fast. James Reimer still hasn’t healed from his lower body injury so Sparks remains with the big club and is given the net over Bernier. What happens next?
Garret Sparks tweaks his groin during first period play and has to be replace by Bernier who plays solidly and is back to being Babcock’s starting goalie by way of a war of attrition.
Great so now we have Bernier in the NHL, Reimer on IR and beside him on the recovery bed is Sparks. Time to call up Antoine Bibeau (yes again) to be the back-up goalie in the NHL. Gotta love a NHL per diem.
While all of this turmoil is going on with the Leafs, the Toronto Marlies are still leading the AHL with win percentage and have NO IDEA who their goalie is going to be during the next game. In fact, at one point on the road the zamboni driver from old Maple Leafs Gardens is signed to a contract because the Marlies are without a backup goalie! Thus far in the season through 30 games, the Marlies have had six (6) different goalies with wins, a truly incredible statistic.
The organization is so depleted of goalies the Maple Leafs braintrust goes on a hunt for a warm body to fill the backup role with the Marlies. Rob Madore is called up from the Solar Bears but who can give him rest if required and a seasoned talent to back him up? You DID NOT guess this, but former NHLer Ray Emery!! WHAT? Incredible right? So one day after being signed to a NHL contract Emery gets the start versus Hershey on the road and picks up a 6-2 victory and stops 23 of 25 (.920)
Where do we stand now? The carousel hasn’t stopped rotating at this point and we have Jonathan Bernier the Leafs starter, who is coming off of a shutout (his first win of the season) versus the LA Kings. Antoine Bibeau is the Leafs backup goalie. James Reimer and Garret Sparks are both injured. Down at the Ricoh we have Ray Emery and Rob Madore (ECHL) sharing the net for your Toronto Marlies.
So if you saw this coming please put your hand up. We are not even half way through the season and the goaltending story lines are beyond impressive. This carousel has yet to stop and, quite frankly, I am not sure I want it to.
Maple Leafs Goalie Stats
Marlies Goalie Stats