It seems like, in recent years at least, this has been one of the constant roster themes here: what will the Maple Leafs do in goal next season? We have lacked stability in this regard since, well, since Eddie Belfour left town, and that was a while ago.
Though the Stanley Cup finals are still ongoing, it is already the ‘speculation’ season, for sure, and that means we will hear no end of talk about who the Leafs might select in the first round of the upcoming draft (and whether they will trade “up”, which seems to be an annual discussion…) as well as chatter around who Nonis may trade away—and deal for.
The latest talk out there? The Kings need (want?) to move an asset, young goaltender Jonathan Bernier, the former first-round draft choice. They likely feel there will never be a time when his value is higher than it is right now.
Now, I have nothing against Bernier. He played pretty darn well when given the opportunity this past season, and has long been mentioned as a future goaltending star on the horizon. But that’s the thing, after all these years since we first heard about Bernier, his NHL sample size is still relatively tiny. He has largely been a bit of fiction, in the sense that his reputation and supposed potential seem to have taken on a life of their own.
I well recognize he is playing behind one of the finest goalies (currently...this can change quickly in the modern NHL) in the world in Jonathan Quick, so his chances to shine have been (and still may be in the near future) few and far between so far in his career. But when it comes to the Leafs, is Bernier any more “proven” than James Reimer? Forget his “stats”—the numbers don’t mean a whole lot to me. Most Leaf fans have probably not seen that much of Bernier lately. We actually saw Reimer in action when it counted this spring against the Bruins, and while the flaws in his game were still evident at times, he also showed a lot of poise, talent—and guts. We were, much like the Spurs against the Heat, seconds away (in our case, not scoring in an empty net and in theirs, missing a late clinching free throw) from locking up a game—and a series—that was ours.
For the most part, Reimer did his job, and just about as well as he could, against a roster that is now in the finals for the second time in three seasons.
So here we are, back yet again, to this discussion of yet another goaltender in Toronto. Yes, this is media speculation, which is their lifeblood after all, but these supposed leaks come from somewhere. (Yes, it could all just be the fertile imagination of a writer, or idle chatter from an ‘insider’ from another organization who wanted to shake things up—I doubt anyone within the Leaf camp is spreading this one...but this kind of a move does make sense for the Kings.) That said, if it is true that this is something that Dave Nonis is even contemplating (much like the Luongo and Kiprusoff tire-kicking at the trade deadline back in March) I ask simply: why?
After all, we already have a guy, under contract no less, who costs us nothing other than his salary at this point. And he’s pretty good. To acquire Bernier, you know the Kings and their General Manager Dean Lombardi will be looking at bona fide young roster talent in return. Though, as a Leaf guy, I don't know nearly enough to fairly assess Bernier, if I was in Lombardi’s shoes, I'd start with Jake Gardiner on my list of demands if I was negotiating with the Maple Leafs. Matt Frattin would certainly not be enough, especially if a number of teams are supposedly interested in the young King netminder. You have to believe Lombardi will wring every asset he possibly can out of this deal.
Is Bernier so proven, so established, does he have such huge upside, that he is worth relegating Reimer to, at best, a back-up role here? And beyond that, is Bernier also worth the cost of not only a high draft pick but legitimate, young, NHL-ready talent?
I know I have come across as a big Reimer supporter in recent years, and I guess I am. I’m not suggesting that GM’s should not always look to improve the roster—that’s what they do, of course. And they should; it’s their job. I’d do the same thing. I’m just not sure there is not some wisdom in the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory in this particular case.
Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe Bernier is the cure-all, and he will lead this roster to the promised land. He has some experience, though he has played less than what amounts to a full NHL season in his young career. He has performed—quite well at times—at the NHL level, with a save percentage of .912 in his career to date, for what that is worth as a stat in isolation. (He has played about one period of NHL playoff hockey...). He turns 25 in August.
Is he better than Reimer? A better ‘fit’ in Toronto than Reimer? Does he have fewer holes in his game? Have a higher ceiling?
I just feel a bit bewildered. I admit I should have known better after all these years than to think we'd have a 'goalie free' summer in Toronto.
Where do you stand on this one?
Where do you stand on this one?