Florida Panthers: James Reimer, what is he to the team and what is his future?

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 11: James Reimer
NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 11: James Reimer /

With another long-term injury to Roberto Luongo confirmed, it’s time to answer an important question not just for the now but for the future of the Florida Panthers? What, and who, is James Reimer?

Is he an overpaid backup? A starter everywhere that is a 1B in Florida because of who he is behind? Is he someone who has never gotten the chances he deserves not just in Florida but in Toronto too?

With Roberto Luongo reportedly out for up to two months, it’s time for the Panthers to figure out what James Reimer really is, as they won’t have Luongo for much longer.

Reimer signed a five-year, $17 million contract two summers ago to provide insurance for Roberto Luongo as playing 67 out of 82 games the year before was inherently not feasible again. Reimer was beloved in Toronto (thanks Steve Dangle), even if he never really had the opportunity to grab that number one job for his own.

Quite a lot of that had to do with the fact that very terrible teams were skating in front of him, but even then, he was always one of the best players on that team. Since he started playing fulltime for Toronto in 2011-2012, he never finished a season with a worse than .900 save %, and in his best years, he was one of the best goalies in the league, the lockout shortened season being proof of that.

His GAA was above 3 three times in his Leafs career, but how much of that was him and how much was his terrible team is a debate best left to Leafs fans. Last year, in 43 games for Florida, he had a 2.53 GAA and a .920 save % with a record of 18-16-5.

Considering a good chunk of those games were with Tom Rowe and his lack of defensive scheme coaching the team, that’s impressive. But most Panthers fans don’t seem to think Reimer is anything more than an overpaid backup at best, and if you only look at the numbers from this year, that would be what you thought for sure.

He’s made 14 appearances in 27 games with a 4-6-3 record, holds a GAA of 3.62, and his SV% is below .900 (at .892). That’s bad. He was pulled in both of those terrible losses to Tampa and Columbus at home, which was as much the team in front of him as it was his own play. And when this stat came out, the love for Reimer didn’t get any bigger:

With Luongo, the Panthers have gotten points in 64% of the games he’s played since he came back to Sunrise. That’s more than a playoff pace extrapolated over the two plus full seasons of work he had.

The Panthers have played 293 hockey games since they re-acquired him, so in games Luongo has not played, the Cats are 40-51-14 without him. They only win 38% of their games without Luongo, compared to 51% with him, and get points in 51% of games without, compared to 64% with him.

Quite a lot of that is who was playing in front of him, but Luongo’s greatness has certainly masked a lot of the numerous ills the Panthers have had since Luongo came home. Reimer’s overall Panthers record of 22-22-8 is mediocre at best, but certainly his performances this year have raised alarm. So with all of that said, what is Reimer to the Panthers going forward?

For one, he’s the starter until Luongo gets healthy. And there are three more years of his contract to go through as well. He’s 30 in March, which isn’t exactly old by goalie standards, but by this time in a goalie’s career, you know what you have. Reimer has a penchant for making some truly wonderful saves, but also lets in plenty of weak ones as well, as evidenced by his relief appearance against the Islanders on Monday.

There’s also the question of Luongo’s future too. He’ll be 39 in April, but more important than that is the actual salary he’s being paid. He goes from $5.706 million this year, to $2.874 million next, and then down to $1.375 million in 2019-2020.

Luongo is probably not playing for that amount of money at age 40, nor is he going to come close to playing the final two years of the contract where he makes practically the league minimum.

Roberto’s time with the Panthers is far closer to its end than its beginning, and assuming Luongo plays next year too, the Cats will have to decide by then whether Reimer is the answer going forward or whether they will need to change how they approach the goaltender position.

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Samuel Montembeault is the only real goaltending prospect the Panthers have in their system, and while he’s still young, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in Springfield this season. With a 3.26 GAA and save % at .895 in 13 games, he has room to improve, and will now have the time to since Harri Sateri is now backing up Reimer in Florida.

But beyond that, there are no goaltending prospects in the system. And after Luongo hangs up his skates, the Panthers will need to find an answer to that position.

Is Reimer the kind of goaltender with his odd-looking style that can be the backstop to multiple playoff appearances? That remains to be seen. But with a lack of internal pressure pushing him from below, those questions are no closer to being answered.

It’s unlikely the Panthers do anything drastic with the goaltending position this offseason, maybe other than drafting someone else to provide organizational depth at the position.

But after next year? That is when the Panthers have to find out what James Reimer really is: a backup that is overpaid, a starter who never had the best of chances to succeed until now, or a stop-gap until a young goaltender takes over the reigns.

When Luongo left Florida the first time, the Panthers never really did find another long-term answer in net. It was Tomas Vokoun, briefly, until more stop-gaps came along before Luongo came back.

Because he is a sure-fire hall of famer, and will have his number retired by the team, the question of the future isn’t necessarily one that had to be answered right away. But it’s time to start thinking about that question once again.

Next: Florida Panthers: Where they turn next after the Roberto Luongo injury

Maybe Reimer answers some of these questions and concerns over the next couple of months when the Panthers net is his. But if he doesn’t, then it’s time to wonder what James Reimer really is, and what that means for the future of the most important position on the ice for a team that wants to think it’s on the rise.