James Reimer takes over for Florida Panthers
James Reimer was in Raleigh but his goalie paddles were still in transit Tuesday, so he grabbed one of Curtis McElhinney’s old sticks for his workout at Raleigh Center Ice.
Of course he did.
If anything, the Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie position has been one of transit in recent years as Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, Scott Darling and now McElhinney have moved on. The team announced on Twitter Wednesday that Ward, who helped the Canes win the 2006 Stanley Cup, is signing a one-day contract so he can retire as a Hurricane. After helping the Canes reach the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, McElhinney became a one-and-done player, leaving and signing a free-agent contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
McElhinney left behind some of his sticks, still stored at RCI. Reimer picked out one -- “Thanks Mac,” he later joked -- and went to work Tuesday with forwards Jordan Staal and Jordan Martinook and defensemen Jaccob Slavin and Haydn Fleury.
After three seasons with the Florida Panthers, Reimer was traded to the Canes on June 30 in a deal that sent Darling to the Panthers, who promptly bought out Darling’s contract. It came a day before the Panthers signed free-agent goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the former Vezina Trophy winner with the Columbus Blue Jackets and a huge get for Florida.
“I figured that something would happen but didn’t know where, didn’t know when, didn’t know how,” Reimer said Tuesday in an N&O interview. “Through talking to people I kind of figured my time was coming to an end there and I was just waiting to see what happened.
“Obviously when it happened I was excited. Everyone saw what these guys did last year and I’m happy to be a part.”
The Canes mostly had fun, winning games, celebrating after games, becoming the talk of the league. What really struck Reimer, he said, was their consistency of effort from game to game.
“Honest,” he said in describing the Canes’ style of play. “Obviously they had speed and they had skill and they worked hard, but you knew you were going to get an honest effort from them. As a player, when you get in that groove of just playing the right way every night, with the right effort, it’s nice to be a part of and a pain to play against.”
That’s what Rod Brind’Amour asked of his players in his first year as a head coach in the NHL and that’s what he got for the most part. It translated into a 46-29-7 record and 99 points in the regular season, the Canes’ first playoff appearance since 2009, series wins over the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders and a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.
“He’s obviously a very good fit for the squad they have here,” Reimer said.
James Reimer’s coaches
Reimer, who was drafted by Toronto and spent six seasons in what he called the Maple Leafs “fishbowl,” has been a part of some messy coaching situations. With the Panthers, he was in net on Nov. 27, 2016 when the Canes rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 -- Derek Ryan with the winning goal -- at PNC Arena.
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant learned immediately after the game that he had been fired. He soon was seen behind the arena, at curbside, then jumping into a taxi -- the photo going viral on social media.
The Panthers, missing the playoffs, made another coaching change this past April, bringing in Joel Quenneville. Goalie Roberto Luongo retired after 19 seasons and Florida took goalie Spencer Knight in the first round of the 2019 NHL draft.
Reimer had put up pedestrian numbers last season: a 3.09 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage that was his worst since 2011-12. He had 29 starts, posting a 13-12-5 record in what was a step back from his first two years with the Panthers, who signed him to a five-year free-agent contract in July 2016.
“Overall, everything that kind of went on ... yeah, it just wasn’t a great situation, the circumstances and what-not,” Reimer said. “But I had a great summer and worked hard and kind of got back what my game really depends on. I feel good about where I’m at.”
Competition at goalie
It could be a competitive situation in training camp. Petr Mrazek, who was re-signed by the Canes, and Reimer have the NHL experience but Alex Nedeljkovic was the American Hockey League’s goalie of the year in 2018-19 for the Charlotte Checkers and Anton Forsberg was obtained in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Mrazek came to the Canes as a free agent a year ago intent on proving he could be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL. Playing on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, he split the position with McElhinney, the two giving the Canes enough quality starts to make the playoffs, then signed a two-year, $6.25 million deal with Carolina once free agency began.
“The first thing I was hoping for was to be consistent and to play every game the same,” Mrazek said in his exit interview with the media in May. “I think I found a way how to do it and I was very happy with that.”
Does Reimer, who will make $3.4 million each of the next two years, feel he has something to prove at age 31?
“I think you do every year,” he said. “I wasn’t happy with my season last year, all-around, for whatever reason. You can go on and on about reasons or excuses. But I’m looking forward to this year and playing the way I know I can and just winning a lot of hockey games.”