Alex Auld

Alex Auld during his time with the Ottawa Senators. (Scott Slingsby Photo)

Alex Auld played 237 NHL games over a 12-year career that included time with nine different teams, and spent last season in Austria, where his goaltending coach was Francois Allaire, before retiring this summer. Tired of the nomadic lifestyle and eager to settle his young family in one spot and focus more on his wife Melanie’s highly acclaimed jewelry business, Auld returned to Vancouver, where he played four seasons for the Canucks and was named MVP in 2005-06.

Fortunately for us, Auld will always be a goalie at heart, and with an eye to keeping himself in the game has already done some TV work with Sportsnet and agreed to share his thoughts here at InGoal Magazine. A true student of goaltending, Auld has a variety NHL experiences and has spent time working with a long list of well-regarded goalie coaches, so we are thrilled to have him on board. Be sure to follow Auld on Twitter for more insights, and to check out his wife’s jewelry.

If you haven’t already, go back and check out his first contribution on playing goal in Vancouver and for John Tortorella, both things that Auld can speak about from personal experience. His second article focuses on the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team he got to know as a rival during his time with the Ottawa Senators, and another team with an interesting dynamic between two goalies both vying to be No.1:

Breaking Down the Maple Leafs Crowded Crease

James Reimer had a breakout season during the lockout-shortened campaign of 2013, but Leafs management still saw fit to trade for another quality goaltender in Jonathan Bernier. The team also gave their new goalie a nice raise, signing him to a 2-year, $5.8-million contract.

Bernier was a huge contributor for the Kings last season. As Jonathan Quick was slow to find his form coming off offseason back surgery, Bernier was a rock for the defending champs. Since both goalies are coming off strong years, this will be a very interesting battle to watch. Most likely though, it won’t be settled anytime soon.

Both goalies have something to prove entering camp.

Reimer wants to prove it’s his net and that late meltdown against the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of last season’s playoffs is behind him.

Bernier, on the other hand, wants to show he has what it takes to be a starter after many seasons stuck behind the ultra-elite Quick in LA.

Over time a couple of key elements will be the deciding factor in who earns more starts and the eventual title of the Leafs No. 1:

1. The ability to manage expectations

Toronto Jonathan Bernier Leafs Goalie Mask

Bernier will face an entirely different kind of expectation and scrutiny in Toronto than he did in Los Angeles. (InGoal photo by David Hutchison).

This point is almost entirely mental. I like the fact that Reimer has always seemed to find a way to beat the odds. He wasn’t a high draft pick, battled his way up from the ECHL through the AHL and into the NHL. He seems to have a very calm demeanor and has a solid technical base that he can always go back to whenever he struggles. Although Francois Allaire is no longer with the Leafs, Reimer is a product of Allaire’s teaching and therefore will be well equipped to handle this type of challenge. Allaire goalies are always prepared, and have a good understanding of how to channel their energy into things within their control.

Jonathan Bernier has all the tools to be a bona fide starter in the NHL and has been waiting for this opportunity for what seems like a long time.

Even though the brass isn’t saying it, fans believe, or want to believe, he is the answer and the future in net.

There is enormous pressure in this market and many before have failed. Think about how Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala were both brought in to be the guy and for one reason or another it didn’t work out. Bernier’s ability to block out the media and fan expectations and just focus on his job will be the biggest test for him.

He is used to being a backup in a market that just doesn’t have the attention that the Leafs do. Now he’s expected to win the starting job in a hockey-mad market like Toronto. This will be a major adjustment for him and how he handles it will be the biggest determining factor in how many games he gets this year. Bernier needs to be able to focus on his job, on his preparation and not get sucked in to all the distractions that can easily consume a player in Canada’s largest city.

Bernier believes he is primed for this opportunity. He’s been waiting for his chance for sometime now.

Can he step up? He too is the product of very strong coaching in the LA system with assistant Kim Dillabaugh and head goaltending coach Bill Ranford. They are quickly emerging as an impressive 1-2 punch in the goalie-coaching world. And talking about goalie coaching brings me to my next point.

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer

Reimer has already built a relationship with second-year goalie coach Rick St Croix. (Scott Slingsby photo)

2. Relationship with Rick St. Croix

A goaltender’s support system is crucial at any level but especially in the NHL.

After years working with Allaire, Reimer had his best pro season working with newly-hired goalie coach Rick St. Croix.

Rick played the position professionally and has a great demeanor with his goalies. He understands the game and is very open to discussion and input from his goalies. Most importantly, he is a positive voice in the goalie’s ear.  A goalie coach that is willing to listen and wants to continue to learn is imperative and will be crucial in this situation because these goalies have contrasting styles.

Rick has to understand the way both goalies want to play, and come up with drills that meet the needs of both while challenging them in different ways.  I’m not predicting any issues for Bernier, but this relationship is important and as with any human relationship there is always a chance personalities don’t mesh.

3. Head coach Randy Carlyle

Randy is all about results when it comes to his goalies.

If you want to play goal for him you better win games. Randy loves the saying ‘win and you’re in.’

He won’t care about who management wants to be playing or what is going on contract wise with the goalies.

Since it is impossible to win every game, there will be a lot of back and forth early on and that is why I think that both goalies will play considerable minutes this season. Carlyle will take his time to make up his mind, and even once he does, he will be quick to change it again.

He showed that all through his time in Anaheim with how he played his goalies. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller all had stretches as the backup and starter while Randy was behind the bench. This can be frustrating at times for a goalie that just wants a few games in a row to get a rhythm going.

It also can be great for a guy who isn’t playing, because you know in the back of your mind that there is always the hope that if you string a couple of wins together you can earn more playing time. Each goalie’s ability to mentally handle the short leash they both will have will be interesting to watch.

To sum it all up, my feeling on the Leafs goalies this year is that it’s a position of strength and depth, at least at the NHL level.

Having two good young goalies can be great for an organization, but it also can backfire.

As impatient as some fans and the media might be to name the starter, this won’t be decided anytime soon. The big question is, does it need to be?

Coach Carlyle will keep both Bernier and Reimer active and hungry, which is a good thing. You need to have two goalies that can play and give you a chance to win every night. But the constant questions of who will be playing the next game will always be a story and will quickly grow old.

There will always be the temptation to create a controversy for the media in this market. In a perfect world, the Leafs are hoping that if the goalies are properly supported and managed, they will eventually have two very strong assets: One to keep, and one to trade.

But the pressure and intense scrutiny in Toronto have the potential to make this situation far from perfect.

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