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Do we really want Jonathan Bernier?

I thought—at least I really hoped—that we would see a summer go by where there was not a goaltending “issue” in Leafworld.  Alas, it isn’t meant to be, apparently.

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?

21 comments:

  1. I hope this is just a silly rumour. I imagine that Reimer (like Kessel) from time to time looks in the mirror and asks, "really, what more could I possibly have done?" We had a fun little mini-season that gave us an opportunity to see what all of these playes were capable of, and I suppose my advice to Nonis would be "trust your eyes." Yes, Dave, that was a bona fide #1 goalie you saw, a solid, battling youngster who inspires his teammates and the fans, and who is demonstrably willing to work hard and learn - yikes, are we waiting for the ghost of Georges Vezina? I suppose my discomfort (and maybe yours as well?) stems from the fact that I haven't yet seen from Nonis anything that resembles a vision or a commitment to any particular philosophy or direction. Say what you like about Burke, but the man had a vision, I always felt that there was a firm hand on the tiller. We might not always be happy with the direction he steered, but we were absolutely sure that he was paying attention and had something in mind. With Nonis, I'm not so sure; time will tell. Glad to see you posting (!!) Mike Allen

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  2. No, I don't want Bernier.

    Our tandem of Riemer and Scrivens is quite good, but also very cheap.

    The low price of our current tandem frees up money and gives us options for other areas. (adding a minute crunching, two-way defenceman?)

    You would have to trade something for Bernier, but you then also have less cap space and budget. What if somebody really good becomes available because of cap space or personal issues, etc?

    Patrick Roy wanted out of Montreal and Pronger wanted out of Edmonton. It does happen... and sometimes results in a Stanley Cup.

    I want to save the money and cap space for the perfect fit or something close.

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    1. I tend to be of your mind on this one, DP. Sometimes we should beware what we wish for. As you note, we have two capable, low-cost netminders right now that cost us only salary- not assets.

      As fans, of course it would be great to have a young Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy around, but in the absence of that kind of upgrade, Reimer strikes me as an option that may actually get better in the years ago. And he's already here...

      Thanks DP!

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  3. I'll post from time to time this summer when something strikes me as the kind of thing VLM readers might like to bat around, Mike- and this 'possibility' struck me as one of those kinds of topics.

    We know Reimer is not perfect, but goodness, there aren't many perfect goaltenders around these days, eh? So this fascination with someone else's (unproven??) goalie confuses me, but media folks have to have something to write about, I suppose.

    Let's see how this plays out. It may be, as you say, just a "silly rumour".

    Thanks for visiting, Mike!

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  4. Here's the rumour that I am hearing:

    Clarke MacArthur is close to signing for a hometown discount because he wants to stay with the Leafs.

    That seems like a better way to spend money.

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  5. Going into this season there were still lingering questions about what type of goaltender the Leafs had in Reimer. He proved to be a reliable #1 goalie, though he lacked NHL playoff experience. For that reason I didn't mind Nonis looking to add an experienced goalie who could back-up Reimer and step in and carry the load should Reimer have an injury. Scrivens has done an admirable job, though I wouldn't object to an upgrade. BUT, only for a reasonable price. There is no sense giving up valuable prospects for a back-up goalie. So in the case of Bernier, even if you were willing to offer a valuable prospect, you are still not getting an experienced goalie in return.

    Nonis is not looking for a #1 goalie. He just wants to upgrade his back-up at a reasonable cost. There are other options out there, so no need for Nonis to get foolish.

    Not sure if the rumor is even true, but if it is, I would think Nonis would be very reluctant to part with any of the Leafs' quality prospects. To be realistic, LA can't afford the cap hit to re-sign Bernier, so a GM might be better just to toss an offer sheet at Bernier (an RFA). Likely would only cost a 3rd round pick in compensation. At worst a 2nd round pick.

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    1. My guess, Don (TML_fan), is other teams would be more willing (e.g. Philly) to ante up what Lombardi would want than the Leafs. Would Bernier come here to be a back-up? Not likely, given Bernier already has that job in L.A. Presumably he is looking to be a number-one, and the Flyers want to get as much as they can for an asset they drafted high and have developed slowly for years.

      Would an offer sheet work for a team that really wanted him? They rarely seem to, but we'll see.

      The more realistic outcome for the Leafs may be, as you suggest, finding a true back-up- a guy with a fair bit of NHL experience, but someone who would be a fit as a number-two. Thanks Don.

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  6. What sticks in my mind was the 2011 World Championships. Reimer was clicking along, the Kings were eliminated and Bernier joined the team. Canada’s Ken Hitchcock, smitten by the Bernier allure, replaced the 3-0 Reimer with Bernier. Why replace an undefeated goalie in a short tournament? No one but Hitchcock knows the answer to that one. Bernier was good, but he lost and Canada was eliminated. Personally, outside of puck handling ability, I think that there is scant evidence that Bernier would be an improvement over Reimer. As Michael says, Bernier’s “potential” has a life of its own. It could turn out to be true, but we have not seen it in reality yet. Reimer, when healthy, is a winner. As for Scrivens, in my opinion, he is the more talented of the two keepers we now have. Then again, if I am the coach, Reimer is my starter. If the Bruins were playing in front of Reimer, I think he would probably be still playing. Nonis concerns me with his apparent inability to evaluate real needs and a worrying tendency to focus on the wrong areas for improvement. Can the team upgrade in net? I suppose so, but it seems very unlikely, and certainly not with a contract equivalent to Reimer’s (which should afford flexibility to improve areas of weakness that are glaringly obvious).

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    1. To me, you've hit the nail on the head, Bobby C.- Bernier I'm sure is a solid young goaltender. But where exactly is the photographic evidence that he is "better" than Reimer? Hey, he may turn out to be- that's one of the many reasons why I am not a General Manager in the NHL. But we actually have seen Reimer play well when it matters, and we have not seen that from Bernier. Your Hitchcock reference is an interesting one. Even coaches are sometimes drawn by the allure that the next guy (with the "reputation") may be better than what he already has.

      Hopefully that is not what Nonis is experiencing yet again. Thanks Bobby C...

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  7. The cap has been reduced to $64,300,00. It is vital that next season's roster is crafted intelligently. This means no overpayment for free agents a la Philadelphia and Mark Streit. Money and player resources should be allocated toward strengthening the weak areas of the roster. Goaltending is not a weakness.

    If the Leafs are going to spend resources, it should be for shoring up the centre and defense positions. Spending money and players on Bernier would be wasteful and would not address a team weakness.

    The Leafs are in a strong cap position.I am confident that Nonis will manage the cap prudently without trying to make a big and expensive splash.

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    1. My guess, Pete Cam, is that you will be proven correct. Nonis is maybe kicking tires again, as all GM's do. But at the end of the day, he surely sees the other more dramatic roster upgrades that are required to compete with the "big boys" on a consistent basis.

      The Flyers may be that more desperate team with a glaring need in goal. They have over-paid for an aging defenseman already, as you well cite, so that's my guess as to destination if there is a Bernier "sweepstakes". Thanks Pete Cam.

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  8. In a 'devil's advocate' vein, I am not so sure a Bernier acquisition wouldn't be part of a large set of moves. Or, I'd hope if that was the direction, there'd be a larger set of moves.

    I like Reimer. I don't see Bernier as a huge upgrade. But, the Leafs are (in my opinion) fairly shallow in net. Reimer and Scrivens have been pretty good, but Reimer has missed chunks of seasons due to injury (29% of 2011-12, 15% of 2012-13), and I for one think Brian Burke is not a great judge of goalie talent – Rynnas and Owuya did not have great seasons, leaving McIntyre and Sparks as the total organizational depth.

    Swapping Reimer for Bernier does not solve the depth issue, but perhaps (and I am spitballing) there's a lower cost for Bernier as an RFA and a higher reward for Reimer and his one-year-remaining that means Nonis can get back something on his 'must do' list. I'm not sure LA would take Reimer+ for Bernier+, because they have Quick, so it might be a third team involved.

    What that return may be, I have no idea. On the face of it, simply getting Bernier makes little sense, even from Bernier's perspective - he's already stuck behind Quick, why go to a team that you'd have to unseat a young starter?

    I guess we're into the 'season for speculating' (which is fun in and of itself).

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  9. Your speculation makes sense, Mark- I don't see a scenario where Bernier comes here to back up or "fight" Reimer for the top job. So this would lead us to think that if Nonis were indeed interested in Bernier, he would acquire him thinking he could get assets back by flipping Reimer.

    My preference is sticking with with we have! But as you say, it's that time of year, and it's fun for fans to speculate...

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  10. Bernier is a good young goalie but we already have two good young goalies. I don't think there's anything to this rumor. It simply makes no sense - Bernier is looking for a starting role and there are plenty of teams that need a young starter with potential and will be willing to give the Kings what they need in return. The Leafs need a first-line center and a shut-down defenceman. Not a goalie. As I said earlier here, I'm a bit worried that Nonis will not have the backbone to go out and get us what we need. He's losing players to free agency and KHL and getting nothing in return, he's giving up useful players (like Steckel) for nothing etc. I wonder if we may end up worse off by the end of the summer. I really hope Nonis proves me wrong.

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    1. I could be way off base, leafdreamer, but I have this feeling Nonis will do something out of the ordinary this summer. Not just for the sake of it, or to create his own identity apart from Burke (most fans still see this as "Burke's team"), but to try and get the team to that elusive "next level".

      I don't think this (Bernier) is that move. I think it will be something else, and as you correctly say, we need a stud defenseman and a center in the worst way. On our good days we feel we are fairly strong up the middle, but we are actually quite ordinary, if we apply the standards of really elite teams

      This summer will give Nonis ample opportunity to move the team forward. He has assets if he needs to trade, and money if he wants to sign UFAs. Stay in touch, leafdreamer.

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  11. "I have this feeling Nonis will do something out of the ordinary this summer. Not just for the sake of it, or to create his own identity apart from Burke..."

    A really interesting sportsnet.ca article hints at the big things that might happen:

    With the NHL’s salary cap set to drop for the first time in its eight-year history, the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager believes there will be seismic effects on the industry in the coming weeks — and he wants to make sure he’s ready to take advantage during the aftershocks....



    “We have to be mindful of how much we’re committing,” Nonis said Wednesday after a meeting of NHL GMs at the Stanley Cup final. “We want to make sure that we have the ability to take advantage of opportunities that come our way.

    “If you don’t have cap space you’re locked into players that might be eating up too much of that cap space and you’re going to put yourself in a difficult situation.”

    “I think there’ll be some pretty good (restricted free agents) that aren’t necessarily qualified,” he said. “And it’s not because the teams want to lose those players. In some cases it’s very difficult to retain them all.

    “The cap coming down is going to play a significant role and there’s no way around that.”

    “Things could change dramatically. You never know. Right now we don’t have any deals in the works that would alter our team dramatically, but that could change. Last year we didn’t know about JVR’s (availability) until we got to the draft."

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/johnston-leafs-gm-nonis-anxious-to-make-moves/

    Wow! one can only hope for a deal as successful as the one that brought us JVR.

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  12. Ok, Haven't had stability since Belfour left? You realize that reimer's 924 sv pct, is good for BEST ALL TIME for leaf goalies right? This isn't about replacing reamer, it's about creating competition for the backup job. Sure scrivens had back to back shutouts. He then followed them up with @*!TIING the bed. Bernier would have a chance to usurp reamer sure. But reimer has a little less better numbers, but over a MUCH larger sample size (twice as many shots faced). Smoke screen.

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    1. Hi George, I don't know if you have been to VLM before, but to be clear, I have been a Reimer supporter since his early days here. I've long advocated him being the guy in goal.

      I can't imagine Bernier coming here to be a back-up. There are teams that would (likely) make him a number-one guy tomorrow. I'm guessing some GM's would pay a lot more to the KIngs than the Leafs will.

      On stability, my point is not that Reimer isn't a good goalie. But every summer there is goalie talk in Toronto- it would be nice for that not to be seen as necessary...

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  13. MIchael,

    I don't see a lot to distinguish between Reimer and Bernier here. They are both young goalies who have put up similar numbers when given the chance to play. Reimer has been hurt a bit, and Bernier has never had a run as a starter. Should Toronto be interested in Bernier? Yes, they should. The Leafs should also be interested in Malkin, Crosby, Doughty, Weber and Suter. Perhaps they could pry Chara away from Boston while they are at it. It all comes down to this. What will it take to get Bernier from L.A.? If it is next to nothing, then go get him. If its Gardiner or Morgan Rielly, then forget him.

    The fact that Toronto has interest in improving the talent pool in the NHL and the AHL isn't really news. I am growing tired of these pieces popping up in the media. The Leafs as a destination for these players kind of thing. They aren't adding anything by reporting this as news. TSN et al, need to get the picture that these stories aren't news. If they could report that Toronto made an offer, then fine. Until then its just filler, in my opinion. Wasting time, ours and theirs reporting things that are clearly true, but painfully obvious. Two good young goalies are better than one, right?

    There will be goalie talk in Toronto, as well as number one centre talk here, until get this. We have a legitimate top five goalie, or a true number one centre. The biggest deficiencies on the team need to be addressed. You know that I have come around a bit, in my view of Reimer. He still has work to do, but not as much as I thought he had to do last year. Kudos, to him for improving, and to everyone who suggested he might be better going forward. There is always talk like this in Toronto, so forgive me if I have grown to be distrustful of prognostications like this. I swear I have heard the this guy is the next one here for so long it pains me. Lonny Bohonos anyone? How about all the Pogge talk? Sometimes it gets hard to differentiate between the more legitimate thoughts on prospects and the pumping of tires solely because the kid got drafted in Toronto.

    If Toronto can get Bernier for nothing, or close to it, then by all means get him. If the cost is above that, then no thanks. We already have Reimer, and I am ok with that.

    A question to close. Where is all the Nonis is planning a big move stuff coming from?

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    1. I agree, Jim, there is an awful lot of "tire pumping" in Leafland. It's been this way for a long time. All our prospects are first-rate, and every available player, if you believe the media, will come here via trade or free-agency.

      And you're right about the "next one" syndrome. We've heard it before.

      As for Bernier/Reimer, I'm good with Reimer. Anyone would love to have two good young goalies, but it doesn't always work out well (Bester and Wregett come to mind...).

      I acknowledge I am probably adding to the "not really news" talk by posting on this subject, but it just seemed to be something fans may want to bat around.

      As for Nonis, I can only speak for myself- I just have a sense something significant will happen this summer. But who knows? Thanks Jim.

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