Expectations by Maple Leafs fans are usually pretty simple for their Buds: Win the Stanley Cup. Every season. And every month since the preseason of 1967-68, they have had those expectations get absolutely, devastatingly squashed like a wandering raccoon on the Don Valley Parkway.
Such is the environment Jonathan Bernier finds himself parachuting into this fall. The netminder, acquired over the summer from the Kings, will feel the massive expectations shift squarely to his shoulders. But, wait, get this: There is every indication he's capable of taking on this burden. Not since the days of Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph (the first time around) have the Leafs boasted having a superstar goaltender in the fold during his prime. Every incoming puck saver has been anointed the next savior in Toronto, but the road to ruin is littered with the broken dreams of an odd assortment of characters from Don Beaupre to Tom Barrasso to Ed Belfour to Vesa Toskala to Andrew Raycroft to James Reimer.
Ah, yes, poor James Reimer, projected to be the No. 1 for the next five years by everyone except Leafs fans, who, conditioned to believe in only big names in net, be they good or washed up, just never accepted the concept. Former GM Brian Burke, perhaps the most loyal hockey man in the game, stood behind Reimer until the end, and it's safe to say that loyalty cost him his job. If not, it's a pretty amazing coincidence that new GM Dave Nonis got a massive five-year extension mere weeks after he traded for Bernier.
So, the question on most Leafs fans' minds: But will it work? Sure, Bernier is going to get the most minutes, the most starts, the biggest chance at glory. And even if both Bernier and Reimer will be 25 when the season starts, Reimer is going to watch a lot of games from really good seats while wearing a ball cap. And if Bernier channels his inner Jiri Crha or gets injured? He'll get yet another shot. Doesn't look good for James Reimer.
But the Leafs actually look good in front of Bernier. The D still needs work but Dion Phaneuf is still Captain Crunch, and many forget he's just 28. The talented Jake Gardiner will get a good look. Up front, the offense looks to be in good shape with Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and new arrivals David Clarkson and Dave Bolland providing much-needed grit. All this at the disposal of talented coach Randy Carlyle?
We're not predicting a parade down Yonge Street just yet, but let's just say the Leafs' goaltending provides a very good foundation for a decent spring run. And when was the last time you could say that?