Last season the Florida Panthers emerged from the rubble of mediocrity that was the Atlantic Division and were declared victors. Finishing ahead of the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning was no small feat, and Roberto Luongo played a major part in Florida’s success.
Coupled with Al Montoya in a dynamic goaltending duo, the pair finished sixth in the NHL in save percentage and seventh in the NHL in goals against average. Luongo was in net for 62 of the 82 games, which could have fatigued the 37-year-old netminder.
Meanwhile, James Reimer was gaining further experience in a tandem-goalie situation. Reimer was paired with Jonathan Bernier in Toronto, posting a 0.918 save percentage for the struggling Leafs. At the trade deadline he was dealt to the San Jose Sharks, where his play only bettered. In eight starts for the Sharks, Reimer posted a 0.938 save percentage, winning six of the eight contests.
This offseason the Panthers signed Reimer to pair with Luongo, a move that was highly acclaimed due to the low cost and lack of downside. But it did beg the question: How are the Panthers going to split time between the veteran Luongo and newly signed Reimer?
Having two goalies that deserve to start is not a problem. In fact, by signing Reimer, the Panthers found a way to best utilize both of their goalies.
Luongo looked fatigued at the end of last season. In each of the last four seasons, he posted a worse save percentage after the All-Star break than prior to the All-Star break, a sign that his workload could be catching up to him. Asking Luongo to play in 62 games at the age of 37 was too much from the Panthers, something the organization recognized heading into the postseason.
Thus, the signing of James Reimer to limit the amount of action Luongo must face throughout the season. By dropping Luongo’s workload to 45-50 games, he can be at his freshest throughout the season and into the postseason. Also, should Luongo show signs of fatigue, the Panthers will have a reliable goalie to place in net in his stead,
Reimer showed in his limited time in San Jose that he can be the backup for a number one goalie. In Toronto, he proved that he can split time in net, and at times showed he could be the number one goalie himself. Reimer posted a 0.924 save percentage in his first taste as a starter back in 2013.
Reimer had to deal with constant criticism in a major market in Toronto after the Maple Leafs collapse in 2013, but in Florida he will have a small market and a smaller role. The Panthers are setting Reimer up for success by putting him in a pressure-free role, while also giving him an opportunity to play in important games for a talented team.
Overall, the Florida Panthers have perfected the goaltending tandem. Unless injuries occur, Florida will not have to concern themselves with having an inferior goalie in net. Florida will have two goalies that can compete with the best of them, both playing in their optimal roles. It appears the new front office knows what they are doing.