You’ve been introduced to the young guns, now it’s time for the
big boys. Everyday, from now until the season opener, you’ll get to know your
favourite Leafs just a little bit better thanks to the beautiful people at
The first Leaf on the docket is arguably the most
important Leaf: goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
That’s funny to say in hindsight, because a large section of
Leafs fans were adamant the Leafs didn’t need him, period. The Leafs
already had a great young goalie; one that took them to the playoffs
for the first time in nine years. Considering James Reimer’s play during
the lockout-shortened season, acquiring Bernier seemed unnecessary
compared to other (still) pressing needs.
But the Leafs defensive ineptitude quickly proved
that in order to even get a sniff of the playoffs, they would need Bernier and every single ounce of elite goaltending they could get out of him. And even that wasn’t
enough for a historically deficient team.
It’s no stretch to say that Bernier was the MVP last
season. Kessel was fantastic, but without Bernier this team would’ve been
embarrassed every night (more so than they already were, that is). Just
how low would this team have fallen last year without him? Here’s some
math that’ll give you another reason to thank god you’re not from Winnipeg.
Standings Points Lost
Ondrej Pavelec’s career
Vesa Toskala’s last Leaf season
The big take away from this chart is that if Bernier turned out
to be an average goalie last season, the Leafs would’ve had a lottery pick at
last year’s draft.
Luckily he wasn’t just average. Bernier was stellar in stopping
more than 92 percent of the shots he faced and giving the Leafs a chance to win games they had no business winning. What’s more is that he was
consistently good. He had an above average save percentage in 35 of his 55
games played, giving the Leafs a decent chance to win in about 65
percent of the games he was in. In 20 of those games, Bernier posted a .940
or better which is seriously impressive.
The problem was in the workload. With it being Bernier’s first
full season as a starter there was concern over whether he could
handle a full starter’s share of games. That and the sheer volume of rubber he
had to face game in and game out likely made it a tough first season. While Bernier
gave the Leafs a good chance to win in 65 percent of his starts, the
Leafs didn’t return the favour. In 37 of his starts, Bernier had to face 30 or
more shots against and in 13 of those games he faced 40 or more. Fun
fact about those games? Bernier was 8-3-2, which is absolutely insane.
Here’s a look at how Bernier fared throughout the season in ten
As you probably remember, Bernier started the season red-hot,
being handed the starting job no matter what he winning the starting job from Reimer. For the most part he was
extremely consistent and extremely reliable, playing well above average for all
but a few instances throughout the season (something that happens with all
After his first season, it’s not at all difficult to see why
Leafs management was enamoured by him. He stops pucks, and he looks good doing it.
Bernier is an eye-test dreamboat.
While it’s usually not wise to gamble on goaltending (it’s
voodoo!), Bernier looks every bit the real deal so far. With Bernier, it looks
like the Leafs have hopefully found their future Price, Rask or Lundqvist: an
elite goalie they can build the franchise around.
Hold on, not so fast there, Mr. Optimism. Franchise goalie? Real
deal? I mean, yeah he looks great stopping pucks. Calm, cool and collect. But
do we really know that Bernier belongs in that upper echelon of
goaltending? We don’t. And that’s the problem with
currently projecting goalies, it’s difficult with the data available.
There’s a decent chance that Bernier is a very good goalie.
There’s also a chance that he’s actually below average, fooling
everyone with a bout of random variance. Remember, goalies are voodoo.
There’s a reason most goalie careers look like yo-yos from season to
season. It’s why every year you wonder what happened to
whats-his-face and why he had an off-year, or wonder where the hell
Semyon Varlamov and Ben Bishop came from. It’s the nature of the position.
In order to properly judge a goalie, you need to see him face a
lot of shots. So far, Bernier has faced 2692 shots at even-strength in his
career. Sounds like enough shots? It’s not. Knowing he’s faced that many shots
and that he stopped them at a .926 clip, we can say with
95 percent certainty that Bernier’s true talent falls between
.916 and .932, which is a sizeable gap. Below average, elite, or somewhere in the middle, we won’t know
what the Leafs truly have with Bernier until he faces probably twice
as many shots.
It’s Bernier’s relative inexperience in the league that has some
doubting whether he can repeat last year’s sparkling performance. And if
Bernier regresses like some fear he might, this team is likely
doomed (unless of course Reimer has a bounce-back campaign which isn’t all
that unlikely). This season will be the ultimate test on
whether Bernier is for real or not. What will put him in the upper tier of
goalies — the Lundqvists, the Rasks — is season-to-season consistency.
That’s what separates the elite from the decent, consistent high level
performance. That’s the next step for Bernier, and with his pedigree and tools,
he is fully capable to taking that leap.
Bernier is the Leafs starting goalie, and considering the
most important goalie stat in most pools is wins, his fantasy outlook isn’t
too hot. He had 26 wins last year, good for 16th in the league. On top of that
he only had one shutout, and it’s unlikely he improves on that this year considering the team in front of him. He
also won’t start as many games as some of the other goalies thanks to
having a formidable back-up in Reimer. Unless your pool counts saves or shots
against, Bernier probably shouldn’t be the first goalie you take at your draft,
but he’s definitely a solid second choice.
Lastly, to get you excited for the hockey season, we chose the
best moments each player had to offer from last season.
For Jonathan Bernier it was this moment right here where he
became an instant fan-favourite, embodying what the organization values
most in its goaltenders: truculence, testosterone and pugnacity.
While he may not make flashy saves like former Leafs legend
Jonas Gustavsson (mostly because he’s usually in position) Bernier can come
clutch with some big-time stops. Ok sure, this one may be against an
Edmonton Oiler, and sure it wasn’t even one of the good ones, but it was in the
final few minutes and it saved the game, so that’s something?