One of the goalies expected to change addresses this summer (and the one that I intentionally omitted from my earlier article on the subject) became the first one to do so, as the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Los Angeles Kings’ backup goalie Jonathan Bernier in exchange for Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a 2nd round pick in 2014 or 2015.
The Leafs got a young, if unproven goalie who hasn’t yet been able to show what he can truly bring at the NHL level. He was a first round pick (11th overall) by the Kings, but because Jonathan Quick has been so good, Bernier has been relegated to backup duty for his 3 full (and parts of 5) NHL seasons. The most NHL action he has faced was 25 games that he played in 2010-11.
While potential is one thing, now Bernier has to do his proving in front of one of the most unforgiving fan bases and media centres in the NHL. Although highly touted, Bernier hasn’t set the world on fire as a backup, with a career record of 29-20-6 and a GAA of 2.36 and SP of .912.
He did get some more regular action in this past shortened season, getting into 14 of the 48 games, going 11-3 with a GAA of 1.88 behind the defending Stanley Cup Champs.
Another question mark is his ability to handle playoff pressure, of which he has seen only 30 minutes in his NHL career, and that was in mop-up duty in game 2 of this year’s conference finals against the Blackhawks.
So now the Leafs, who also retained 40% of Frattin’s 2013-14 salary and about 20% of Scrivens’, now have to sign the potential Restricted Free Agent, and also must now seemingly relegate James Reimer to backup duty. Reimer showed himself pretty well in the playoffs against the Bruins, and had turned himself into a legitimate starter, although not in the elite category, which is where they expect Bernier to land eventually.
The question is, are the Leafs better today than they were yesterday? Bernier might be a slight upgrade on Reimer, or he could be a big upgrade. Reimer and Scrivens together were set to make $2.4M against the Cap. Expect Bernier to double that amount by himself, meaning the Toronto goalies would count almost $5.5-$6M next season.
Toronto was already facing cap trouble ($20M to fill at least 9 roster spots), with a number of key players needing to be re0signed or let walk. That list includes restricted free agents Bernier, Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Cody Franson and Carl Gunnarson. Unrestricted free agents include Tyler Bozak, Clarke MacArthur and Mike Kostka. Obviously buying out Mike Komisarek will free some more space, but they might have to consider cutting Mikhail Grabovski a cheque to leave town as well in order to field a competitive team in front of Bernier and Reimer.
So the Leafs took a big gamble that Bernier will be a big uprade on Reimer, who has more NHL action, a slightly higher save percentage and the pair have a relatively similar winning percentage in their NHL careers. While Reimer did it in the spotlight of Toronto and has grown up in that system, Bernier will not be insulated by the defensive style and ability of the Kings when he gets to Toronto. The Leafs allowed over 7 shots per game more than the Kings, or almost 600 more shots over an entire season. With the Leafs payroll to goaltending increasing, its tough to think the team in front of them will be that much better defensively.
Its a big name, a big move and will increase talk about the Leafs, but I am not convinced that they will be that much better, if at all. Bernier got his wish, the opportunity to be a starter. I am just not sure he is ready for the attention that is about to be heaped on him in Toronto.
And the funniest thing would be for Bernier to reach RFA status and someone sign him to an offer sheet that forces the Leafs to ante up more than they had bargained for.
**all salary figures are from capgeek.com, the most comprehensive site for NHL salary cap information.