TORONTO — There are parts of life in the NHL that James Reimer is still getting used to.
Visits to the mall have become a little strange for the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie goalie, who suddenly finds himself being watched. The same can be said of a recent dinner with his wife, brother and sister-in-law, when fans approached his table at Dave and Buster’s to get some photos.
And then there’s the paycheques.
“I’m getting the minimum here (US$555,000) and it’s 10 times more than I got down (in the AHL),” Reimer said Tuesday before making his fourth straight start against the New York Islanders. “It’s a lot bigger. It’s weird. It feels like you don’t deserve it sometimes — what am I doing to deserve this?
“There are many people that work a lot harder than I do who don’t get paid half as much.”
The 22-year-old Reimer is as grounded as they come.
Raised in tiny Morweena, Man., the fourth-round draft pick from the Red Deer Rebels in 2006 worked his way through the Leafs system before making the most of an opening created when J.S. Giguere suffered a groin injury in December.
With Giguere again injured and Jonas Gustavsson back on an AHL conditioning stint, Reimer is unquestionably the team’s No. 1 man at the moment. Entering Tuesday’s game, he’d only allowed four goals in four starts at Air Canada Centre while putting together a 7-3-0 record away from home.
Reminders of his place remain. He and current backup Ben Scrivens both occupy tiny stalls in the team’s dressing room while Giguere and Gustavsson continue to have nameplates over the two large ones designed for goalies.
Goaltending promises to be a central issue for the organization this summer, with Gustavsson the only man at that position currently under contract for next season. Reimer is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer and is happy to leave all of the negotiating to agent Ray Petkau.
“I know they’ve talked,” said Reimer. “That’s his department. I’ve got a really good relationship with my agent. He’s like a brother to me, he takes care of me.”
The veteran Giguere is hoping he might get a contract from the organization as well. He’s been dogged by groin problems in recent years — likening his current situation to a poker player on a run of bad cards — and is looking to return to the lineup this weekend.
Giguere turns 34 in May and is trying to avoid having surgery in an off-season where he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. However, he acknowledges it might not be possible.
“Before you get to that extreme measure, you’ve got to seek out every other alternative,” said Giguere. “I’m running thin on those, too.”
Until he’s back in game shape, Scrivens will serve as Reimer’s backup.
The 24-year-old is thrilled to be spending time around NHL players after starting his season with the ECHL’s Reading Royals. He’s hoping to follow Reimer’s example and work his way up to the big team, but isn’t secretly hoping to get pressed into action during this callup.
“I actually joke around my buddies because they all want to see me play in (NHL) games,” said Scrivens. “But I tell them ’I don’t wish any ill will on anyone, I’ve got to try and keep karma on my side.’ I’m extremely fortunate to be up here right now. It’s something that can be one bad twist one way or the other and it can all be gone right away.
“I would never wish any ill will on any of the other four goalies, let alone James.”
Reimer has built quite a following among Leafs fans, who have taken to calling him Optimus Reim and The Statue, among other nicknames. The happy-go-lucky goalie is still getting used to all of the attention.
“It’s weird to be walking around the mall and have people recognize you and say, ’Hey, you’re James Reimer.’ I’m like, ’Yeah, I am. What’s the big deal?”’ said Reimer, with a laugh. “I try not to get caught up in it, it could be a bad road to go down. I’ve got my family members and my brother’s out (in Toronto) now and he’s always beaking me, telling me that I’m brutal. Obviously, in a good way.
“It keeps me on level ground.”