Maple Leafs send goalie Reimer to the Sharks in four-player trade
Published Saturday, February 27, 2016 2:20PM EST Last Updated Saturday, February 27, 2016 4:26PM EST
TORONTO -- The Maple Leafs are once again looking to the future by trading another veteran, only this time it's with an eye toward pieces already in the organization.
Toronto dealt longtime goaltender James Reimer and young forward Jeremy Morin to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and the expiring contracts of forward Ben Smith and goaltender Alex Stalock.
Unlike previous trades this month, which saw the club accumulate four draft picks, this deal was made with the intention of getting a longer look at young goaltenders in the organization, specifically 22-year-old Garret Sparks and perhaps even 21-year-old Antoine Bibeau.
"That's the reason for this," said Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello. "We've had the best goaltending tandem (in the AHL). So we have to take a look at Garret Sparks right now and see if how he performed when he did come up earlier is something that is the real thing."
Jonathan Bernier is currently the only NHL goaltender under contract with the club for next season. Sparks is headed for restricted free agency and Stalock is an impending unrestricted free agent.
Bibeau has yet to play an NHL game.
Sparks became the first Leaf in team history to post a shutout in his NHL debut and has a decent .915 save percentage in his first five NHL starts. A seventh-round pick from the 2011 draft, he owns a .925 save percentage in 20 games with the AHL's Toronto Marlies this season.
The Leafs want to know if his AHL success, which includes a 13-4-3 record, will translate to the next level.
Lamoriello recalled giving an opportunity to a young Martin Brodeur while he served as general manager of the New Jersey Devils.
"It seemed to work out pretty well," Lamoriello said of the legendary netminder. "You never know unless they're given the opportunity. And the only way you get an opportunity is if there's a space available for that."
Sparks was expected to back up Bernier in Montreal on Saturday evening while Smith was assigned to the Marlies.
Lamoriello said the Leafs had yet to determine where Stalock would fit with the club. He has started only nine games this season, struggling with an .884 save percentage.
The modest return for the 27-year-old Reimer was a result of a slim market for goaltenders, Lamoriello said, especially those like Reimer that may only fill a backup role. The conditional fourth-round pick would become a third-round selection if the Sharks reach the Stanley Cup final.
Saturday's trade closes a wild run for Reimer in Toronto, one that saw him bounce between the starter and backup roles. His future with the organization seemed to be constantly in question.
"Obviously I had a lot of good years," Reimer said from his hotel room in Montreal, shortly after the trade was completed. "It's definitely a weird feeling to be going somewhere else."
A fourth-round pick in 2006, Reimer played more than 200 games for the Leafs, compiling a .914 save percentage. He burst on the scene as a relative unknown in 2011, nearly guiding the Leafs to an unlikely playoff berth with a 20-10-5 record in 37 games.
The high point of his career as a Leaf arguably came during the lockout-shortened 2012-'13 season. Reimer went 19-8-5 that year with a .924 save percentage in the regular season before posting a .923 save percentage in a seven-game first-round series loss to Boston.
He said he'd remember "just the good times" from his Toronto stint, which could conceivably restart next summer if the two sides opt to reconnect in free agency. Reimer is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the season.
He offers the Sharks insurance at the goaltending position beyond Martin Jones, the 26-year-old who is starting regularly in the NHL for the first time this season. Jones has a .916 save percentage in 51 games this year, but has yet to start a playoff game in his NHL career.
"He's certainly capable of being a No. 1 all on his own," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Reimer. "So we're excited about the depth and the tandem that it gives us."
Superb through the first four months of the regular season, Reimer has cooled recently with an .869 save percentage in February.
Morin was acquired by the Leafs from Chicago in a swap that sent Richard Panik to the Blackhawks. He has 28 points in 41 AHL games this season.
Reimer joins Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf as fixtures of the Leafs organization to have been dealt elsewhere in the past year. The rebuilding Leafs have been aggressively tearing down the roster in exchange for draft picks and prospects, dealing Phaneuf, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling and Shawn Matthias as well as Reimer in February alone.
The club is likely to continue moving parts out ahead of the Monday trade deadline with other expiring contracts like P.A. Parenteau, Brad Boyes and Michael Grabner still expected to be moved.