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Set aside the pretense, make Bernier the guy

Despite the wins this weekend against Buffalo and Carolina (side note: while I'm not his biggest booster, the persistently harsh Bozak critics may be quiet for a bit given the impact he had in his first game back after a prolonged absence), we can all see that there have been some troubling Leaf-related issues as the 2013-’14 NHL season has unfolded. As fans, we all see different things when looking at the same picture, of course, but I’m guessing almost all of us see either a team that is under-performing or simply not good enough right now.

After an early-season start with 6 wins against a solitary loss, the Leafs have kind of lilted sideways—looking sporadically like the team most hoped they could become, but far more often playing like a leaderless, disorganized also-ran.

The various issues facing the Leafs have been documented here (and in much more analytical detail elsewhere).  System issues, personnel deployment questions, injuries, leadership, a lack of winning experience, a team playing against its own current (the ‘system’ the coach favour seems at odds with the talents and inclinations of the team’s best forwards), not to mention alleged communication/personality conflicts between the coach and many players.

I certainly have no solution, and I have little doubt Carlyle spends most of his waking hours with his coaching staff trying to determine a) if his approach can work here and b) how they can get the best out of the roster they have.  He is no doubt still assessing whether the system is ‘right’ and the players have simply not adjusted yet  or is it actually the wrong system for the players on hand? 

We can only assume Dave Nonis is watching—and contemplating any and all possibilities once the Winter Classic is behind the organization.

One thing is clear:  a few wins would help, and could instantly change the current climate around the dressing room (not that there is an indication that guys aren’t getting along, etc.) and on the ice.  Confidence breeds confidence, eh?  A few goals and a run of wins could make a world of difference.

That said, a lot more seems muddy than clear when it comes to the Maple Leafs these days.  We can readily see the individual talent on display—whether it is Kadri, Kessel, Lupul, van Riemsdyk, Gardiner, Phaneuf, Rielly—but the sum of the parts seems off too many nights lately. Maybe Bozak’s return will spur offensive productivity throughout the lineup, what with roles being shifted somewhat to a more normal setting. 

We’ll see. But while stats and numbers can never tells us everything, one statistic is telling:  that the Leafs have won so few games in regulation over the past two months is, well, alarming.

This all leads me to something that seems clear to me but may or may not be a popular view among the faithful: it’s time to make Jonathan Bernier the guy in goal, and run to the finish line with the player management felt was an upgrade (and many fans think still is) when they made the big trade this past summer.

Despite all the arguments I’ve heard about the value/benefit of having two sound netminders to rely on, in my view this entire back-and-forth situation has been—and remains—a mess. While I think Reimer’s supposed visible and public reaction to being pulled recently has been tremendously overblown, it is evident that the strain of the yo-yo he is on is not healthy. 

Those who have visited VLM since the trade was made know my views:  we already had a number-one, and we were finally about to experience a summer without a goalie debate.  Lo and behold, the brass determined (along with Carlyle, obviously) that Reimer wasn’t good enough and thus spent a fair bit to land a goalie seen as, if not exactly the ‘next one’, at the very least an emerging NHL netminder. Bernier was perceived to have a strong pedigree, having been a first-round draft pick and subsequently a useful understudy to Cup-winning Jonathan Quick.

So here we sit, exactly half way through the season, and the Leafs have a grand total of 47 points.  We have almost all taken turns saying how (generally speaking) great the goaltending has been, and how we would not even have as many points as we do were it not for Bernier and Reimer.

That may, or may not, be so.

I don’t want to get into the whole “what if we had Scrivens thing”, but, well, it is a question, eh?  He’s certainly done OK in Los Angeles.  But even set that aside.  Why couldn’t we be doing as well with one of our current goalies as the starter and Drew MacIntyre around to play an occasional game?

I will (and I’m a Reimer guy) make the argument that Bernier has been the steadier of the two.  He is the poised, composed ‘let the puck come to me’ netminder, while James is the battling, scrambling, fighting, reacting kind of goalie.  Reimer has been pulled because of bad starts in several games; Bernier has not.  Bernier has bailed out Reimer when Reimer was hurt or playing poorly.  Reimer has not had to bail Bernier out.

Bernier is clearly the favoured son, obviously, as he cost the team significant assets and then a nice new contract. On the other hand Reimer is, as Leiweke so thoughtfully put it, “the guy we inherited”.

So as we get ready to play the Wings in the January 1 ’where memories are made’ game, at the 41 game mark, I say it’s time to do what Carlyle and Nonis (and Leiweke) really wanted to do this past summer but felt they couldn’t—because of optics and related team issues: name Bernier the number-one guy.  Publicly.  Declare the competition over.  Do what they have intended to do all along. 

How can it hurt?  I’ve said here before that both of these guys need to have a run of games where they can get truly comfortable. No yanks, no yo-yo, no back and forth, no rotation to please both players, no being pulled after a bad goal or a tough game.  Both needed and deserved a run of games where both got a real shot to strut their stuff.

Now, with Carlyle refusing to adopt that approach—and my having seen what I think is a chemistry-killing situation grow worse by the day—I say: make the move now. Announce Bernier is your goalie.

I’m sure someone can cite an exception somewhere along the way, but by and large good NHL teams are set up a certain way.  Jus like really good NFL teams are not deciding every week who their quarterback is, NHL teams (while needing a back-up, of course, they play 82 games…) know they ultimately need and want to rely on a solid 'number-one'. The top guy knows it.  His teammates know it.  The other goaltender knows they are the back-up and so he prepares accordingly.  That doesn't mean the back-up can’t or doesn’t aspire to be the best goalie out there, but he will need to wait his turn and be awfully good when he gets his oppportunity.

If the top goaltender is hurt then the organization makes the decisions they feel they have to make.  They can promote the “next man up”; they may look at a kid in the minors or they can make a trade.  But ultimately, they will still designate another “number-one” netminder—because that’s what good teams generally need to do. You can’t have a split locker room—and one (or two) miserable goaltender/s.

We all know that if there is a really big game (e.g. the Winter Classic) or a contest Carlyle feels the Leafs have to have, Bernier is his guy. The trust factor is there.  It is not with a netminder who has a history of injuries (even earlier this season) and who has been yanked from several starts.

I guess you could make the argument that Bernier is already the undisputed top guy.  Slowly but surely, he has been getting more starts.  His pure ‘numbers’ are better than Reimer’s (GAA of 2.42 I think it is now and a save percentage of .930 or so versus Reimer at 2.83 and .924). So maybe that decision was in fact made long ago.

But I have not heard the “announcement”.  (Did I miss something?) I still, as a fan, have this sense that there is a season-long “competition” going on and I don’t think it has been, as I’ve said here before, a level playing field.  But that doesn't matter any more.  Reimer will be moved, if not this season then over the summer.  For now, it’s time for the team to ride one goalie as much as possible and that individual is Bernier. 

One move like this won’t solve all the other issues facing this team, but from a ‘chemistry’ perspective I have to believe it will in fact create a positive domino effect.

There are no guarantees, but if there s not going to be a major shakeup in Leafland, this would at least be a step in the right direction.


  1. Hi Michael
    I see your point as when it comes to the QB in football, and similarily in the NHL there is room for only one goalie on a team to be 'the guy' eventually. However we do not need to rush anything here. Let's just let the season play out with both Reimer and Bernier taking turns sharing the net. Even if one of them gets the bulk of the work load from here on. Hopefully by the end of the season we will better know what we have in both goalie and THEN trade Reimer if we have to, as it seems the most likely scenario.

    There will likely be a better market for goalies after the season is over when some teams are exited from the playoffs earlier than expected and feel they need to shake things up.

    I think it was the Carolina Stanley cup team that played both Gerber and Ward in the nets having to juggle them both before Ward emerged as their go to guy. They don't win the cup without having both their goalies step up like they did when they needed to.

    St. Louis is doing just fine with having 2 good goalies as other teams around the league. Also we see how Anderson is struggling in Ottawa, Backstrom in Minnesota before his injury. It is always good to have another capable goalie in the pipes when one goes down with injury or struggles on the ice. As a coach once said that goaltending is 70% of the teams success and when you don't have it its 100%.

    I think our chances for winning the game with our tendem goes up dramatically with our one two punch as opposed to having a MacIntyre as a backup.

    As long as Reimer is not demanding a trade then it should not be a distraction to the team. Only in Toronto it seems that things are magnified and headlines made. Sure he was upset at getting pulled as he should be. All Goalies, even backups on other teams like to play as much as possible. It would be more worrysome if it didnt bother him when he was pulled. I don't think Reimer is the type of person who would demand a trade after getting pulled at this point, thus handcuffing his GM to make a trade. So why not roll with both goalies as we have done so far.

    The NYI, Florida, Phile, Calgary, Winnipeg maybe Edmonton may be likely trading partners. But they are not really playoff contenders this season and the off season is where they may show serious interest in Reimer. If a trade makes sense then, we can consider the possibility then.

    Lets look at the positive here and see it as having 2 bonified number ones. If it comes to it in the future and we have to make a trade then do it.

    What would be the return for Reimer? I don't think it would be all that much. Perhaps a mid first rounder like Vancouver got for trading Schneider. Yet maybe Nonis can get creative and package him with some other players and get a potential number one center. I think we shouldn't really worry about that right now.

    It is somewhat similar to when we signed Cujo already having a capable starting goalie. Many of us questioned that signing but it turned out to be a great move and gave us trade bait in Potvin. Which is never a bad thing. The difference was Potvin was on the decline then. However right now, Reimer and Bernier are both yet proven. Both are young and haven't seen a full seasons work. So try to keep them both as long as we possibly can.

    Reimer I'm sure will be working harder in practices and during the games to establish himself as a number One again.

    That can only be a good thing for us.

    1. Everything you say makes sense, BlueANDwhite. But for me, this is not working, and won't. And it's not working for Reimer- and won't. It hurts the dressing room and the overall mood. It's not like the other situations you mention. Reimer had fought for years to become the number-one guy, and now he's a back-up. But the team won't quite say it out loud. Yes, he'll fight through this, but it's not a good scenario.

  2. The second they name Reimer as the back-up, his trade value plummets. What they need to do is trade him now for a legitimate D prospect, and be done with it.

    1. I don't agree that his value would drop; GM's see what they see. But I'd be fine with that (a trade now), Anon. Thanks for posting.

  3. "The trust factor is there."

    I'm not sure that it is.

    I think they have tried to play Bernier 4 games in a row once before and he stunk in the fourth.

    Perhaps Bernier lacks the ability to many consecutive games at a high level?

    Perhaps this is why they need the 1B in Reimer and can't settle for a lesser backup?

    I think Carlyle may trust Bernier more, but the consequtive starts may be more of Carlyle pushing a player to see what he has. Carlyle has done that before.

  4. a win during regulation time? hurray! i for one am HAPPY for the return of bozak... toronto's dark horse!

    1. Good of you to visit, Alex- and yes, Bozak can make something of a difference, his serious detractors notwithstanding...(not that Carlyle or Leaf management cares what fans think about personnel decisions).

  5. Leafs finally won a game in regulation against a traditionally hard opponent. The captain and the checking line shut down Eric Staal and Bozak's return was indeed all that it (wasn't) hyped up to be. I really like this team and I can't wait for the return of Bolland. It seams that, when Carlyle gets the roster he's asking for, things go well. I repeat - this team is a contender and they can beat anyone in a best of four series in the playoffs.

    I'm a little surprised by your rather negative musings in this post but I understand, that being 'a Reimer guy', you are disappointed by how the things are playing out. I was never a Reimer guy myself and, to be honest, I wish it were him going the other way instead of Scrivens in the summer - we could have had a happy back-up and more cap-room. I wonder if that option was on the table at the time.

    I agree with you, however, that Reimer (who clearly thinks of himself as no. 1) being around and behind Bernier (right now) is not the ideal situation, but I hope that it is not grave enough to affect the rest of the team.

    In any event, we are in a bit of bind here - we have an unhappy goalie that, in my humble opinion, has not proven himself as a capable starter that we now need to get rid of (because he just won't play the 1a/1b role) and I wonder if there's a team in this league that is willing to give up anything of consequence for him. Most likely, he'll get traded for 'whatever we can get' (which won't be much) and the Leafs will end up with a very shaky goaltending situation whereby we'll have to rely on a very young and unproven goalie having to shoulder a burden that he may or may not be ready for. I can't help but see this as being all on Reimer. I really don't think he's earned the right to be pissed off for having to share the net in Toronto. Perhaps a part of the problem is the lack of communication between him and the management - it seems that he was not consulted when the Bernier trade was made and that was indeed disrespectful given the fact that he did play a very good half-season (along with Scrivens) and delivered the Leafs to the playoffs.

    What now? I don't know. That's what the management and the coaching staff are getting the big bucks for - to figure this out and make the best of the situation. Perhaps sit down with the guy and try to convince him to continue to play his role (1a/1b)? I do think that, in this day and age with such a crazy schedule, an NHL team does need to have two good goalies to win the cup. Perhaps, if Bernier has a bad game, Reimer can get back in a and get a few starts and all is forgotten about this mid-season fiasco.

    1. Hi leafdreamer- your post is the very definition of why this won't work. The very idea of Reimer having to wait for Bernier to have a bad game, and then maybe Reimer can get's just an unhealthy situation. I'm surprised more people don't see it. It isn't working and won't work.

      No, I don't put this on Reimer at all. He played his guts out for this team, including at times through injuries. He kept the franchise afloat when it was awful. Now the new guy takes centre stage and that was the plan all along. It should be painfully clear to all- and to Reimer. So I don't blame Reimer in the least. Hhe has done nothing (except a supposed 'look' at Carlyle) but be a total pro.

      I'm not as optimistic as you about this team, though I was at the outset of the season. I see too many issues, including leadership and toughness, once playoffs roll around We'll see! Thanks leafdreamer.

  6. In reality both goaltenders have played well, and each have been responsible for keeping the Leafs in some games, or allowing them to win despite being out-shot or out-played. Unfortunately for Reimer, he's started a few games where either he, and or the team struggled badly out of the gate. Unfairly or not, in those games Reimer shouldered the blame and there's no doubt it has affected his confidence. I think Carlyle and Leafs' management team still have confidence in Reimer, though its clear they have a bit more in Bernier.

    Reimer could easily re-establish himself in the net if he has a few excellent starts. Hopefully he is given the chance. But unless he's able to restore confidence in himself and show he is still capable of being their #1 guy, Bernier will have succeeded and taken that job. As they say in The Highlander series... "There can be only one".

    Probably the best trade value will come prior to the trade deadline. Hopefully another team will be looking for a goalie to increase their playoff chances, or to provide solid goal-tending for years to come. Teams like Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg come to mind. Not sure waiting to the end of the season makes sense, as signing Reimer will be awkward. As well, other teams will know that Toronto will want to save cap space, and can ill afford to carry two pricey goalies.

    So, if we assume Bernier is the guy going forward, then make the trade when it provides the best return. When the trade is made, that pretty much declares who is your #1 guy going forward.

    I'm not sure declaring Bernier as #1 right now is beneficial. All it would do is boost Bernier's confidence and hurt Reimer's further. Reimer would start to question his future with the team, and probably quietly (if not openly) suggesting a trade. It might actually diminish his trade value.

    IF, and it is a big if, Leafs traded Reimer now, and Bernier got hurt..... would be praising Nonis or criticizing him? If you trade him, you best get maximum value.

    1. All fair points (as leafdreamer, DP and BlueANDwhite also raised above) and good questions. Thanks Don (TML_fan). My view remains as is.

  7. Hi Michael!

    I'm a Reimer fan too so I certainly feel the same frustration. At the end of the day I have an awful feeling that if James was moved, Bernier would be injured in his first game as undisputed number one. I don't think I'm a pessimist but injuries are a reality and seem to come at worst time.

    It's great to have Bozak back. He has a positive personality that I think is good for the dressing-room and he certainly fires up Kessel and JVR. While we bemoan the fact he is not a true #1 center, I'm not so sure there's a center out there that can compliment our very creative top winger as well as Bozak.
    The rising cap makes signing Komorov a possibility at the end of the KHL season in April. I wonder if Nonis will consider it. C.N.

    1. Hi C.N.- I know people are tired of the Reimer/Bernier discussion, but for me, it's a valid concern and will continue to be. If I really believed they could co-exist and it would be best for both of them and the team, that would be one thing. I just don't see that happening, but I hear what you're saying- injuries can happen and we need goaltending to go anywhere this spring.

      Yes, Bozak makes a difference. Whether fans want to embrace him and his "role", he seems to give Kessel the kind of centre that consistently helps make Phil dangerous. As for Komarov, I would jump at that idea. Thanks C.N.

  8. I truly understand the feeling that it is more settling to know WHO is your #1 Goaltender... and by all accounts, I think you've hit the nail on the head respecting the benefactor of a 'tilted' competition. It just seems to me that management is not all that intent on resolving the situation this early. It feels like I start thinking about trade scenarios involving a player we both like (on many levels) and you are ready for 'an announcement', whereas I don't think that either position actually serves the intent of management.

    Knowing that we have goaltenders facing a barrage of shots on a regular basis AND having a compressed (injury-increasing) schedule - necessitated by the Olympic break - makes me feel that despite the slight to James Reimer, the TEAM is well-positioned to survive the loss of either goalie to injury (or short-term fatigue) and that may be an invaluable asset as the season progresses.

    The reference to the Carolina cup run with 2 goalies by blueANDwhite is a good reference point in the present scenario... we may just find Reimer rising to the challenge with his compete level and becoming more valuable to us (as a keeper or a better trade asset in the offseason). As long as James stays 'level headed' I think he may just stick around through the season (unless another team has a devastating injury and blows the doors off with a trade offer - in which case, I'm sure it would be Reimer that would go during the season).

    If we both need 'closure', I'm starting to think we'll just have to give it to ourselves by trusting our own observations and knowing that Bernier has already been given the job (even without the announcement or a trade to make it obvious). I should also add that I like Bernier for all the reasons that others suggest. He is a fine young goalie and if we had his ilk before Raycroft/Toskala/etc. we would have been ecstatic. It's too bad that we (see the) need to choose between Bernier and Reimer at some point in the future, isn't it?!

    1. Thanks, InTimeFor62. I especially nodded along with your last paragraph. Everyone has made fair points today, as usual.

  9. Hi Michael
    Now that I see the Leafs more often via Game Center, it is obvious that the team has many issues much larger than the "goaltending" situation.. A view of today's standings indicates 12 teams have more points and three the same. At best, this is a bubble team and without their joint MVP of "Bernier/Reimer" they could well be down with the dregs of the league.

    While I can agree that Reimer has been jobbed, it is a business and his treatment does not have to be fair or right. I believe they will need both goaltenders performing at the same level to reach the playoffs, and Nonis will not consider fair or right in his decision. In the long run, Reimer will get his due when he becomes a free agent and goes to where he is appreciated. In some ways, I compare Bernier to Dryden in his efficiency, and Reimer to Hasek in his flopping. While the main job is to stop the puck, I can see how a coach may feel more comfortable with one over the other.

    Note: Six NFL coaches who were deemed "saviours" not long ago received their walking papers today. Obviously, there were performance issues.

    1. All good points, Ralph (RLMcC). (And yes, I noticed the NFL announcements today- could be even more before the week is out...)

      I like your comparisons, Bernier and Reimer are very much different "styles" of goaltender.

  10. I can't help it Michael I am as frustrated as I have ever been with this team. At the root of it is the whole goalie situation. It seems to me that the coaching and management have been looking for a scapegoat for the whole collapse in game seven last year. We have all heard the whispers, about certain guys looking like they didn't want to be on the ice. How if only they had got one save it would have been different. Well the whole thing is complete and utter BS. They ran two guys out of town who would be the leading scorers on this team. They went and got a new goalie who is going to give them that big save (which is also utter crap). They have given that new goalie every chance to succeed and tilted the whole "contest" in one direction. And what do we have to show for it, the exact same record as before, a team that can't play defensive hockey to save their lives and one who seems likely to be first round fodder if they even make the playoffs. Reimer is the only reason the Leafs made the playoffs last year and he is the biggest reason why they were in a game seven in the first place. I will say this I have no real complaint against Bernier, he has played well but I will never cheer for the guy. Even after Reimer is gone I will never warm up to Bernier. I know it is not his fault the way Reimer has been treated and he bears no blame what so ever. I just don't care I will not cheer for him as long as he is in the net and the sad part is when he plays I find my self watching less of the games. The whole situation has made me less of a fan of the Leafs.

    1. I think for a lot of us, Willbur, Reimer had come to represent something positive about a Leaf organization that was getting awfully hard to like. Set aside the poor overall team play since Pat Quinn was no longer the GM of the team (and it was clear he would not be allowed to coach for much longer, either. The team he built was gutted the first year John Ferguson Jr. took over "for real", which was after the lockout.)

      We had to endure Richard Peddie's arrogance and lack of hockey knowledge. Ferguson came across as wooden and did not have near the experience required to run an NHL team. He might well have been a very good man but was hard to like. Burke spoke about ", me", "I" and "my" constantly. Throw in the fact that too many of the players seemed to have little passion for actually being or playing here in those years. We floundered.

      In steps a guy like Reimer, who actually brought a refreshing enthusiasm for being a Leaf. he battled, fought serious injuries, always bounced back. He had bad games and gave up bad goals, but he always cared and always battled.

      I'm with you- I have never pointed at Reimer for Game 7 against Boston. Just put the puck in an empty net, and we're not having this discussion about Reimer. He was stellar for the most part in that series. As you allude to, who expected us to even get to Game 7?

      Finally we would have a summer without a goalie controversy, or be obsessed about the need for a goaltender. Lo and behold they throw Reimer under the bus.

      So here we are- with a slightly "better" reminder who is obviously everyone's choice. So why is Reimer even here?

      People don't seem to understand the psyche of a high performance athlete. It's not just about "getting paid". There is professionalism, compete, pride, all kinds of stuff that makes these guys tick. It's fine to talk about being a "team guy". Yes, that is certainly important. But you tell the guy who had been "the man" he now has to fight for his job, and then make the competition unfair to begin with, and I'm surprised Reimer has done as well as he is.

      Of course guys have to compete every day. But Reimer was already doing that. He did not deserve this and I still believe he should be moved- for him, and for the organization. Thanks Willbur.

    2. That is exactly what I was trying to get across Michael. As usual you expressed it much more eloquently than I could. It is just a sense that as just they were starting to find their way out of the wilderness they have deliberately taken a turn and headed right back in.

      Even though I am a big supporter of Phanuef, I can't help but wonder that in locking up their core if the leafs aren't in fact locking in mediocrity. I still think that Dion is the best Leaf defenseman they have and I would have tried very hard to re sign him. It is just a little part of me wonders if they have a winning team.

  11. The core of this team is on the up. Only stingy vet teams like LA and Detroit can lose their top 2 centers and still know how to win 2-1. Leafs are not there yet, but no need to "blow it up".

    With the Phaneuf deal being imminent (caphit for his ability really bothers me), I would like to see the following moves to give us a shot this year and stay on track for long term. These are realistic but obviously not a professional opinion.
    - Liles for a pick
    - Ranger + Gunnarson for Coburn (PHI)
    - Pick for Tim Gleason
    - If plan is to NOT resign Kulemin, then I suggest moving him and get Cammalleri for playoff run depth
    - These moves improve our defense short term, and give us until the summer to evaluate forwards and make a decent run. During summer, if poor end to 2013-2014, attempt:
    - Major trade with Edmonton: Kadri + Percy + Leivo + Reimer for RNH + Dubnyk

  12. While I'm not as hopeful/optimistic as I was earlier, I do tend to agree that the core of young players is still on an upward career arc. (That may or may not make them a successful "team" down the road. Lots of teams have a good young core on paper.)

    I don't know nearly enough about cap realities to say whether the trade proposals you suggest could work. There are some interesting names that would come our way, obviously! Thanks for chiming in, Anon.