Bern-ing Cap Space

Meet Jonathan Bernier. He’s a well mannered
26 year old, who struggles with world history and 140 foot shots. Other than
that Jonathan is a pretty swell guy, devilishly handsome and he’s about to get paid.

On the surface this seems pretty straight
forward. Bernier is a good goaltender and good goaltenders get paid good money
in the NHL. The complication arrives with the fact that the Leafs do not have
good money to spend at the moment, and with the Canadian dollar tanking harder
than the Sabres, it doesn’t look like relief will coming anytime soon. That
could change if some team decides that Clarkson is the missing piece in their
Stanley Cup dynasty team, but for now let’s assume money is limited. If you’re
so inclined, join me on a winding journey of fuzzy logic on what can be done to
address the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending situation.

The Comparables

Under 28 year old goaltenders with over 50 starts combined in the last two season:

bernieru28goaliecomps

via Hockey-reference.com

We live in a world where Corey Crawford isa six million dollar goaltender, with a six year deal. That’s pretty insane and
arguably he did little more than Bernier did to earn his cup ring. We’ve seen
Bobrovsky get 4 year $7.4M deal, which thankfully Bernier won’t be compared to
because of Sergei’s All-Star status. Rask, Varlamov, and Bishop have received
hefty raises as RFA goaltenders recently too, but again, they are a step above
Bernier and a case can be made for why he should cost less.

Less favourable is Corey Schneider’s sevenyear, $6M per year monstrosity, that wouldn’t be allowed into arbitration since
it’s a UFA deal, but certainly isn’t something nice to deal with before
arbitration rolls around.

More favourable is Steve Mason’s 3 year$4.1M per year deal, and considering stats, age, etc. would be the contract I’d
desperately be trying to emulate. It’s likely that Braden Holtby’s next
contract will further complicate things. Right now the Leafs are probably
looking at something in the $4.5M-$5.5M per year range, which is may be
consistent with other league starters but doesn’t make the cap hit appealing.

A
Bridge too far

Roberto Luongo, Cam Ward, Rick DiPietro,
and evidentially Corey Crawford. All long term goaltending contracts that
turned out to be incredibly bad ideas. Since the Leafs aren’t likely to be
contenders during the good years of a long deal, I’m not sure I’d get the logic
in looking long term with Bernier, who has already started experiencing those
fun goaltending injuries that never go away.

Since Bernier is likely arbitration bound
the Leafs have the opportunity to force the hand of a short bridge deal before
looking at a longer deal and it would be nice to see the Leafs use arbitration
to their advantage rather than getting pinned with a ridiculous Mark Fraser contract.
Brandon Pridham is likely much smarter than I am when it comes to this so I’d assume
the arbitration leverage is a factor in why we haven’t heard of any Bernier
negotiations to date and it will likely play out over the summer. If the Leafs
are given the opportunity to seek two years in arbitration, the Bernier
situation will play out beautifully. If the Leafs are limited to a one year
deal, it does pose some risk for losing a good goaltender to unrestricted free
agency. The Leafs would only need to qualify Bernier at $3.570,000 (based on
his 2014-15 found on NHLNumbers.com).
That would likely have the arbiter working with a range of
$3,570,000-$7,425,000 (Bobrovsky contract that Bernier’s agent will likely
cite), with an agreement that fall somewhere around $5.5M which would be a
manageable (and moveable) short term deal.

Reimer

The Leafs still have another really good
goaltender in James Reimer. You wouldn’t know it, because the Leafs don’t want
to start him, but he knows what he’s doing in net.  While he might not be as good as Bernier (in the past two seasons anyway), his .910 save percentage is .010 off Bernier’s, he’s
been solid in years where he receives regular starts (.915 save percentage in
the 3 years prior to Bernier’s arrival, including two years with a save
percentage over .920), and he has another affordable year left on his contract.

Having Reimer under contract and not being
moved until Bernier is re-signed may help with contract leverage as the Leafs
will have a capable option in Bernier’s absence. Reimer might out right be the
better option for the Leafs through a rebuild, as an expensive starting
goaltender might not be a decadence they need considering Bernier will be
exiting his prime around the same time the Leafs are ready to enter the playoffs.

Trade
Value

Looking at Reimer the trade comparables
aren’t overly encouraging. Amazingly, last year the Colorado Avalanche gave up
a second round pick for Reto Berra. This is abnormal, and a sign that their
team will be making more hilarious roster decisions. The Oilers in their desperation
gave up a 3rd and a 5th for Viktor Fasth.  This season has seen a thriving Devan Dubnyk
dealt to the Wild for a 3rd round pick, so the reality is that’s
probably the current market for Reimer at the deadline, but that could improve
by the draft. At this point it’s not really a move that’s worth weakening your
position over until a decision has been reached on Bernier.

Bernier, on the other hand will draw a
premium attached to his starting role and his flashes of brilliance. With teams
like Minnesota, Edmonton, and possibly San Jose (assuming Niemi isn’t
returning) in the market for a starting goaltender, Bernier could be worth
moving by the draft. Assuming he could bring in a return similar to Ryan
Miller’s at the trade deadline last year, it may be worth it, considering the
Leafs need for futures, cap space, and still having a solid option in Reimer.

Offer
Sheet

This really isn’t likely to happen, but
since any offer over $3.36M carries with it a 1st and a 3rd
as compensation, again it wouldn’t be the end of the world to lose Bernier. Of
course this won’t happen because:
a) either the Leafs or Bernier will put him into arbitration almost immediately
b) NHL teams refuse to go this route
c) Toronto would likely match anyway

The Replacements

I guess since there isn’t much of a
shortage of unrestricted goaltenders available this summer, it’s equally
unlikely that there will be someone willing to pay a premium for Reimer.
Enroth,  Greiss, Niemi, Ramo, and Dubnyk
are a few of the options that are appealing for tandem and backup roles, but with
the exception of Niemi there isn’t that will give you 50 starts.

As for the Leafs long term, you’d hope
Toronto would be looking at a longer term build, meaning guys like Bibeau and
Gibson are more likely to goaltenders in their prime when the Leafs are
competitive than guys like Bernier or Reimer anyway. Continually making sure
there’s an affordable supply of talented goaltenders in the system ready for
shots at the NHL makes more sense right now than committing long term to a
starter when cap space is at a premium for the foreseeable future.

Do The Leafs Actually Do Any of this?

While there are several
directions the team could go, the straight path is usually the one chosen. The
Leafs are likely going to sign Bernier, and it will likely be to somewhere
around a $5M cap hit, and since giving term is a trend that’s not going away,
we’re probably looking at the Leafs committing to Bernier being in the Leafs
net for the next seven years.

The reality of that outcome isn’t horrible
either. With a team that needs to address significant issues at forward and
defence, a stable presence in net might be nice. It likely means the end of
James Reimer as a Leaf, which is a cause for mixed emotions. Hopefully he winds
up in the West and fans of his can watch him earn the starting role he deserved
a legitimate shot at in Toronto.  

As for the cap situation, the Leafs have no
shortage of mediocre players to jettison who will ultimately look more
appealing to teams this summer, especially after the limited options have been
picked over in free agency. Cutting Bernier out of the future may be an unnecessary
move for cap purposes.

Data used in this post sourced from:
NHLNumbers.com
Hockey-Reference.com
ProSportsTransactions.com

  • Bertly83

    Bernier gets that big, fat, long term contract as this was one of the leafs great trades at least according to management. After all a number of media people suggested he be the number 3 goalie for team Canada last year even though he hadn’t played a 100 games in the league.

    Why would the leafs break from tradition, whether you are Phaneuf, Kessel, Bozak, Gardiner, Clarkson etc. you are valued by leaf management and from a fiscal point of view you win your Stanley cup of dollars ready to be taken to the bank with the signing of the dotted line. Plus your talented agent likely has made it iron clad as the leaf wannabee Jerry Jones M.L.S.E. board allow the agent to get away with this type of deal. Ask Dave Clarkson’s agent.

    Why would the leafs waste their time or effort with the kids with the Marlies or in future draft picks when Bernier will be signed for $25 to $30 million over the next 5 or 6 years.

    I’m really excited about all those first and second round picks that according to all the experts in here the leafs are guaranteed to get when they deal off number 4, 5 defencemen or third and fourth line forwards. Rumours have it that even the stick boy will get a 4th round pick. Only in Toronto.

  • Benjamin

    Let me preface by saying I like Bernier and think he’s a solid NHL goaltender. But $5M for 7 years?? Please lord no.

    Worst case scenario, his injury troubles spiral out of control and he’s a negative asset halfway through his contract.

    Other worst case scenario, he manages to stay healthy, continues his league average to slightly above average play for the duration of the contract, and keeps an otherwise poor, rebuilding Leafs team in ‘almost a playoff team’ purgatory.

  • Benjamin

    The best thing to do is trade Bernier. He has more value than Reimer and will want to be paid too much for a team like this.

    The best thing to do is resign Reimer to a backup like contract then trade Bernier. Get the cap space saving, get the picks and/or players and that’s the best outcome.

    Leafs should just do a real rebuild at this point. I don’t see how this team will get anywhere with bad contracts completely bogging them down. It’s tough but maybe the team will be ready to compete in 5 – 7 years.

  • Benjamin

    if the leafs sign bernier to a crazy expensive/long term deal like schneider/crawford, i’m done. same mistakes over and over and still expect different results. no more long term, expensive deals. especially with a goalie. short term (3 years, 4-4.5 million/year). if not, sell high for prospects/picks until goalie prospects develop. dubnyk was sold for a 3rd rounder. imagine what a cup winning back up with his numbers can get the leafs from a desperate/foolish team??