Unrestricted free agent goalie James Reimer's starting options dried up in a hurry. The Carolina Hurricanes re-upped Cam Ward, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Frederik Andersen and the Calgary Flames dealt for Brian Elliott. No other NHL team had an obvious need for an unquestioned No. 1.
But the deal Reimer signed with the Florida Panthers July 1 is the type that makes you say "Ohhh, I get it." Is a five-year, $17-million contract with a $3.4-million hit starter money? No, but it sure as heck ain't backup money, either. The Cats have set themselves up with an ideal fallback for – and perhaps successor to – Roberto Luongo. His contract actually ends after Reimer's, but Luongo is 37. The odds of him playing out that deal through 2021-22 are slim. Luongo appeared in 62 games this past season. Before the all-star break he posted at 2.08 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Afterward: 2.82 and .907. He understandably wilted down the stretch and admitted to feeling exhausted during Florida's first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
Reimer, for starters, can spell Luongo for 25 or even 30 games in 2016-17. Reimer has had longer looks as a starter than the departed Al Montoya, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Reimer play a 1B role instead of taking on strict backup duty. The $3.4-million annual investment suggests as much. Reimer is 28, with many good years left, so he could take over the No. 1 job in a couple years depending on when Luongo retires or suffers a significant age-related decline.
Reimer deserves the increased responsibility. Game for game, minute for minute, he was one of the NHL's best goaltenders this season, with a smallish yet sparkling sample size, a-la Elliott. Reimer sizzled with a 1.62 GAA, .938 SP and three shutouts across eight starts after heading to San Jose in a mid-season trade. Among goalies with 1,200 or more minutes (20 games), Reimer's 5-on-5 save percentage was a league best .9404.
So while the flashy 2016 UFA class yielded much bigger headlines than Reimer's deal, it might soon be heralded as one of the day's smartest. Good on the Panthers.
WHAT ADVANCED STATS SAY:
Roberto Luongo is getting up there in age and Reimer provides a good safety net for that as a backup option and someone that can ease the burden. His even-strength save percentage last season was the third best mark in the league at .940, although when you adjust for the quality faced it was more towards the middle of the pack. Over the last three years that save percentage is .925, good for 24th in the league – essentially a below average starter. The price to be a backup is large, but Reimer will be a very good one. By Dominik Luszczyszyn