Cox: ‘It’s entirely possible’ that the Maple Leafs move Jonathan Bernier

The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be open for business in a major way at the NHL trade deadline.

That players like Mike Santorelli, Cody Franson, Daniel Winnik and even Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak, two forwards who aren’t far removed from being considered essential parts of the Leafs’ core, are available has been reported by a variety of sources in recent weeks. On Monday though Sportsnet’s Damien Cox offered up a new name, one that was absent even from Darren Dreger’s big board: goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

“I wouldn’t be shocked guys if they moved even Jonathan Bernier,” Cox told Greg Brady and Andrew Walker during an appearance on the Brady and Walker morning show on Sportsnet 590 the Fan on Monday.

Read past the jump for more.

Here are Cox’s comments, as I’ve transcribed them. They’ve been edited for brevity. You can listen to his appearance in full here (just click past all of the tennis stuff in the first half):

Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli, Daniel Winink are all but gone. Tyler Bozak – y’know they’re certainly taking bids on him. I wouldn’t be shocked guys if they moved even Jonathan Bernier. I think all guys are available except maybe Morgan Rielly…

Other than him everybody is out there. Anybody could move. And I think they’re going to be the busiest team going into the NHL (Trade Deadline) except for maybe Buffalo.

Luckily, stone cold pros that they are, Walker and Brady followed up with Cox on the subject of Bernier, and he elaborated (emphasis mine):

The question is could they do better, is he worth the money they’re paying for him, and could they get something for him now that would make it worth their while?

The struggle I’m always going to have with Jonathan Bernier is he’s not a big guy. As not a big guy what challenges does that pose in terms of both the traffic in the crease and just his ability to stop pucks. I think he’s a good goalie, whether they can get something at the trade deadline that entices them to move him and maybe go in a different direction, I think it’s entirely possible.

Lets handle Cox’s tripartite question in its component parts.

Can the Leafs do better than Jonathan Bernier?

Yes, but it won’t be easy.

Bernier has only been a shade above average for a starting goaltender this season, as he’s posted a .914 save percentage – down from the excellent .923 save percentage he managed behind a porous defensive club during the 2013-14 campaign. At even-strength it’s a similar story. Among the 31 NHL goaltenders who have logged at least 1100 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, Bernier’s .926 even-strength save percentage ranks 13th.

Though some might see Bernier’s performance as regressing this campaign, if we expand the sample, we’ll find that Bernier’s puck-stopping rate is relatively consistent with what he’s done in his career overall. In 154 career games at the NHL level Bernier is a .917 goaltender, and at 5-on-5 he’s managed a .928 save percentage in over 5000 even-strength minutes since the 2011-12 campaign. Among regular starters – goalies who have logged at least 4000 minutes at 5-on-5 since 2011-12 – Bernier’s results rank him 10th out of the 37 netminders who qualify. He’s just ahead of Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo, and a shade behind Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s heady company.

We have enough evidence to suggest that Bernier is probably an above average goaltender. At 26-years of age, he’s a decent bet to be that for several more years.

So yeah, the Maple Leafs could do better. It won’t be easy though.

Is Bernier worth the money they’re paying him?

A lot of people don’t realize this – as evidenced by the popular reaction to Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract extension this fall – but the going rate for an average NHL starting goaltender is roughly 5.5 million. Barring a buyout Arizona Coyotes puck-stopper Mike Smith is set to be the 15th highest paid netminder next season based on annual average value and his cap hit hovers at 5.66 million, according to NHLNumbers.com. It’s unlikely that pending unrestricted free agents like Antti Niemi or Jhonas Enroth will upset that applecart.

Bernier’s on an expiring contract that carries a $2.9 million annual average value, though his salary this season is $3.4 million and that’s what his qualifying offer will cost. As a 26-year-old Bernier has only one restricted free agent season remaining, after which he’ll probably be able to command a salary in the neighbourhood of $5 million or so.

Though Bernier will be a decent bet if he’s signed to a long-term deal worth $5 million or thereabouts, it’s worth noting that he has a relatively shallow track record as a starter. He’s never started over 60 games in a single season in his career, and probably won’t this season, so it’s tough to say that he’s a Fleury-style workhorse.

I’m generally skeptical about paying goaltenders or committing to them with long-term contracts, particularly guys who haven’t proven that they can be durable, above average, workhorse starters. In this case I’m agnostic though. With one restricted free agent year remaining the Maple Leafs have an opportunity to keep Bernier’s cap-hit down with a long-term contract, which could be good business. If they decided to roll with a cheaper tandem featuring Reimer and either a young netminder or a player like Enroth, that could be a sensible approach also.

It comes down, ultimately, to how the Maple Leafs’ new-look management team feels about Bernier’s prospects long-term. Thanks to Bernier having one last restricted free agent year remaining before he hits the open market with no restrictions, the Maple Leafs are in a good spot regardless of how they decide to proceed.

Could the Leafs get something of value for Bernier?

Ahh judging the trade market for goaltenders. It’s something I personally have a remarkably bad track record with.

There are currently seven teams with a realistic playoff shot that have received below average goaltending at 5-on-5 this season: Calgary, Vancouver, San Jose, Anaheim, Minnesota, Los Angeles and the New York Islanders. For a variety of obvious reasons very few, if any of those clubs make sense as bidders for Bernier.

As a general rule it’s impossible to depend on the trade market to return anything decent for a goaltender, and that’s particularly true in midseason. The days of Dwayne Roloson returning a 1st-round pick in a deadline day deal are long gone now that teams have adjusted to the realities of the salary cap era. 

There would seem to be an outside shot that maybe a team like the Edmonton Oilers, who were hot and heavy for Cory Schneider at the 2013 NHL Draft and have received the worst goaltending in hockey this year, could find the prospect of landing Bernier enticing. Barring a pretty spectacular and unlikely offer, it’s tough to imagine Bernier returning much of anything valuable in a mid-season deal.

Conclusion

Considering Bernier’s contract status and where the Maple Leafs are at in their rebuilding cycle – apparently willing to tear it all down and try again – it makes sense that the club might be exploring their options in net long-term. As for the possibility that Bernier is moved before the March 2nd NHL Trade Deadline, that seems farfetched.

If Cox’s comments on Monday are a window into the Maple Leafs’ thinking then it’s certainly an interesting possibility, and even perhaps a sign of organizational good health. For this club over the next month everything, up to and including a potential trade of Bernier or even Dion Phaneuf or Phil Kessel, probably should be on the table.

  • Jeremy Ian

    I am wary of media source speculation. Cox et al are invested in creating more noise than news.

    It is probably true that any good deal is worth considering; but is that a revelation?

      • Jeremy Ian

        That it is — I mean a discussion starter. I actually think they should consider serious bids for Bernier because the timeline the team is on with the revamping means he will expensive right around the time the team should be hitting stride; if he’s not, then he’s not as good as we’d need him to be. But, as you say, it’s not easy to come by solid goaltending and the price isn’t bad. The current makeup, though is unsustainable with the Leafs at the cap. Reimer is underused for what the Leafs are paying.

  • CMpuck

    Said it was in this teams long term best interest at the start of the year, again MLSE never has a plan beyond ‘gollee i sure hupe we’z do good this time’ Leafs never never never never never never sell high on a player. 12 game winning streak was a great time to sell.

    Dumb team, dumb fanbase, now hit thumbs down monkeys.

  • acg5151

    I am ok with it but I wonder what we can get for Bernier. Who is looking for goaltending right now? Minnesota looks happy with Dubnyk, maybe Dallas, Edmonton and the rest of the usual suspects upgraded in goal last year.

    Does Edmonton have anything the Leafs want?