Leafs acquire Jon Bernier – Our initial reaction

Ultimately, the players that the Toronto Maple Leafs gave up in the Jonathan Bernier deal weren’t extremely valuable, but they’re still likeable players that we’ll miss so we’ll have some individual breakdowns on their best moments throughout the week.

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What Toronto did give up in the trade was mostly opportunity cost. James Reimer has been the starter of the Toronto Maple Leafs for three half seasons. In two of them, he had all-star calibre numbers and in the other one, he was concussed. The trade does two immediate things for Toronto, the first being that the departure of Matt Frattin means that Colton Orr will get more ice time, and the second being that Reimer will get fewer starts with Bernier in the system. The Leafs wouldn’t have traded three pieces for a backup goaltender, so you have to think that there’s a plan to run a tandem goaltender system.

Read on.

Now, there’s no problem with a tandem goaltender system and I’d even suggest that having two above average goaltenders is better than having one true starter and one true backup. If Bernier is all that he’s cracked up to be, Toronto’s goaltending situation is much better this season than it was last season.

The problem is that you have no way of knowing it. Goaltending is a very tough position to predict. It’s easy to look in the rearview mirror and tell which goalie had the better statistics, but nobody can possibly pretend to know what goaltenders will do down the line. Perhaps Los Angeles had designs on Jonathan Bernier being the proverbial “goaltender of the future” when they drafted him 11th overall in 2006. Seven years later, Bernier started 54 games for the Kings.

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But the list does go on. There’s a desire among hockey executives to look at pedigree when trading for a goaltender. Not a single person in hockey denies the importance of goaltending, and not a single statistical outsider denies the importance in goaltending. Pedigree, does not equal future performance. Ask Paul Holmgren how that Ilya Bryzgalov contract is working out. Or Mike Gillis how Roberto Luongo is working out. Or Garth Snow how happy he is that his owner was so infatuated with No. 1 overall pick and All-American Rick DiPietro. Dan Bylsma took a lot of flak in the playoffs for starting Tomas Vokoun instead of former No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury. Ken Holland and the vaunted Detroit Red Wings draft machine once took a goaltender named Thomas McCollum in the first round. When Darryl Sutter was general manager in Calgary, he drafted Leland Irving in the first round.

Goaltenders for me fit into two categories. Goalies who “will probably be pretty good next season” and goalies who “will probably not be pretty good next season”. If you used career save percentage numbers, you could ballpark about 60-70% of NHL goaltenders without ever looking at a highlight or a game. If you looked at a game or a highlight, you probably wouldn’t be much better off.

Reimer has two seasons with a .920 save percentage and probably belongs in the first camp. If there are any doubts about him at this point, they’re strictly related to his health. There isn’t an awful lot of evidence that would suggest Reimer isn’t on the path to be an NHL starter for the next five or six seasons, except for perhaps that his maximum games played in any one season is 40—and that’s counting playoffs.

So the Leafs trade for Bernier, who is more pedigree than experience at this point. He’s an easy player to dream on, given that he’s been the Goalie of the Future for the Los Angeles Kings for years now. Now he’s the Goalie of the Present of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll trend more towards the goalie that was a force with the Lewiston MAINEiacs during their 2007 Memorial Cup year or the one that has just 54 NHL starts since 2008.

This isn’t a bad trade because Bernier is a bad goaltender. It could work out exceptionally well but it still doesn’t mean that the thought process behind this trade isn’t flawed. What does Nonis know about Bernier better than we do, or potentially that Dean Lombardi didn’t when he signed Not Jonathan Bernier to a 10-year contract?

Even compared to Ben Scrivens, Bernier’s statistics aren’t mindblowing. In three AHL seasons, Bernier had a save rate of .927. Scrivens in a same amount of time posted a .923. That’s a difference of about one goal per month. Perhaps he wasn’t the veteran backup the team needed as insurance, but he was very serviceable when Reimer went down to injury in 2013, posting five quality starts in eight appearances and the Leafs went a respectable 4-4 in the stretch. That’s the goalie the Leafs need, not one to take starts away from a healthy Reimer.

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It could work out, but just like the Korbinian Holzer and Colton Orr contracts, the trade represents a significant flaw in the Leafs’ thinking. Ryan Fancey put it pretty well on Twitter. “Strange deal, but not exactly catastrophic”. Neither Frattin or Scrivens or a second round pick or $500K in salary cap space are probably going to turn out to be much above replacement level, but I’m not sold that the hockey people that like this deal know more about Jon Bernier than we do. If they did, maybe hockey people wouldn’t consistently make bad bets on goaltenders year after year after year.

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  • jasken

    I think that the cost-benefit of this works out in the Leafs favour. As you said, the players the Leafs give up are replacement-level talent. If Bernier ends up pushing Reimer and either: 1) Outplays Reimer and earns the #1 job, or 2) Pushes Reimer to be better while still giving quality backup goaltending play than the deal works out for the Leafs. Bigger potential reward than risk.

    But yeah, it sucks Colton will be seeing more ice next year.

    • jasken

      Problems with option #2:

      – We now have a marginally better backup goalie, which is going to net us how many extra wins a year? Who’s to say that Frattin and the second wouldn’t net us a better trade in an area where we need more help?

      – Bernier wants to be a starter. Does he re-sign again after Reimer cements the starter role? Do we get strong value for a guy who couldn’t crack starter for two different teams over (example) seven years?

      General musings:
      If LA felt Bernier was so fantastic, why were they willing trade him for two replacement level players and a second round? If the second round was what got us the deal, what kind of junk were other teams offering? I’m also questioning now, if people feel that Bernier is an upgrade over Reimer, and the best offer for Bernier is Scrivens, Frattin, 2nd, what is Reimer worth? Backup and a fourth line player? This line of reasoning really isn’t adding up.

  • Had Phaneuf of you


    Don’t underestimate goalies playing for a career in the NHL. Reimer is a UFA after this next season. He knows this is a make or break for him. We may be keen on him, but he may not necessarily get a stating job on another team.

    For Bernier, he FINALLY gets the chance to prove he’s a #1. These two factors should provide some very steady goaltending in our system. That will help everything overall. Being an 11th overall draft pick, his ceiling is much higher.

    It’s a win win for everyone involved…except for the goalie who maybe becomes an eventual back up. But they won’t admit it, and will continue to push for #1.

    Rolling the dice a bit on a potential franchise goalie is SO worth it.

    Bernier didn’t get the ice time because he’s playing behind likely the best goalie in the league. Not unlike Rask waiting for his chance behind Thomas. Rask was drafted in 2005,(a year before Bernier), and is only now really getting his shot at #1, and running with it.

    It just might be Bernier’s time…and ours.

  • jasken

    Nonis doesn’t have a clue. Bernier has had 1 better than average yr w/ even strength SV%. And all have been in small sample sizes. Is that not a concern? Reimer has put up better EV SV% than Bernier. And Bernier was playing behind a loaded LA team who’s the best puck possession team in league. Meanwhile, Reimers been playing behind one of the worst puck possession teams in league. Safe to say, Nonis bumbled another.

  • jasken

    I think the reason this trade is causing such a stir is that it’s Nonis’ first “move” of the off-season… and on its own it doesn’t make Toronto better (and maybe makes them worse since Frattin skates well, checks, and could be good for 15 goals a season).

    Aside from first line right winger, goaltending is the Leafs LEAST pressing need. I agree with Cam that, optically, this is a Nonis fail… but we should be fair and wait til the end of September before deciding there are ‘flaws in the Leafs thinking’.