TLN Player Profile: G Jonathan Bernier

Jonathan Bernier is the second (and final) goalie that we’ll be doing a profile proper on here at TLN before the season begins. 

Some of you love Jonathan Bernier. Some of you think, like the panelists over at ESPN Insider, that Bernier is given less credit than he’s due – but still aren’t willing to consider him a franchise-changer, because he still can’t win the damn games. Yet more of you think that he’s a kinda short, kinda blissfully clueless, kinda fragile butterfly goalie who makes some cool bail-out saves but still allows too many easy goals and gets hurt all the time. 

Whatever your opinion of Bernier is, though, the 27 year old native of Laval, Quebec is signed for another two years; unless we see Antoine Bibeau or Garret Sparks truly edge either Bernier or Reimer out of net AND see a team willing to trade to take on his $4.15M AAV cap hit, there’s not much that’s going to change until his current deal expires. 

Origin Story

Bernier is a former first round draft pick – and a high one, at that. The QMJHL mainstay was selected eleventh overall in 2006, following his third of what would ultimately be four consecutive seasons in the unpredicatable Q with a raw save percentage that stood above a .900. 

Unlike Reimer, though (who I profiled earlier this week), Bernier isn’t a product of the Maple Leafs’ system – he’s actually a former student of the game in the Los Angeles Kings’ prospect pipeline. Like Quick, who was selected in the third round just one year prior to Bernier’s own draft selection, the French Canadian netminder is a pure butterfly player; unlike Quick, his technical game is actually pretty structured. 

During Bernier’s tenure with the Kings, he quickly rose up the ranks to become one of the team’s most highly coveted prospects. He was praised for how technically flawless he was in a majority of his starts, both at the AHL and NHL level – and it certainly showed in his underlying data, which saw the then-backup post generally excellent numbers with the Kings and Monarchs over the six seasons he spent with the club. 

Serving as backup to Quick, though, the Kings realized that they could flip the thriving netminder for more assets they needed on the ice – so on June 23, 2013, the Leafs sent Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens (presumably as Los Angeles’ new backup), and a second round draft selection to the Kings to bring Bernier into the Toronto system. 

In his first year with the Leafs, Bernier’s numbers were still generally excellent; the only problem was his injury status, which saw the Leafs go without the starter for the majority of the 2013-2014 season’s back end. Backup James Reimer was unable to replicate his success from the lockout-shortened season behind a Leafs roster that was continuing to bleed shots against, and the team iconically slipped out of a post-season spot with less than a quarter of the season remaining. 

One of the best parts about Bernier’s game – and it really can’t be understated – is his technique. Bernier makes good use of his size (he stands at 6 feet even), particularly for a butterfly goalie, and he’s got a good level of consistency in his game. Saves that he makes once, you’ll often see him making again – and while he’s still got some areas that he could improve upon, there’s a lot about Bernier’s game that simply surpasses the ceiling Reimer has reached thus far. 

Stats

These numbers hurt. They’re so good, yet the Leafs are so sad. That’s all I can say.  

What to expect in 2015-2016

Let’s operate under the assumption that Bernier is going to stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs for at least the next two years; he’s not going to have a fun time, but he’s consistent enough that you won’t see him have a regressive year reminiscent of Mike Smith’s or some of Jaroslav Halak’s more atrocious years. 

The Leafs could see their possession rates increase from last year, which would almost certainly improve Jonathan Bernier’s ability to post good numbers. They’re going to have problems with his injury status simply based on the nature of his playing style, but there’s enough talent in the system – Reimer is a decent backup, while both Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks could steal a game or two in a time of need – to keep Bernier without trying to play him for over sixty games. It likely hurts him more than helps the team to play him that heavily, so they might as well project for a 50-60 game season – but if the team improves even a little bit, that helps the team’s overall stats more than a bit. 

Milestones

  • Was the 2006-2007 Guy LaFleur Trophy as MVP in the QMJHL Playoffs
  • Drafted in 2006; acheived his dream of following in the footsteps of his favorite athlete, Nelson Mandela
  • Finished both the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons with .922 SV% 
  • Won the Stanley Cup in 2011-2012

Highlights

*Fun fact: know that second round draft selection that the Leafs sent to the Kings when they acquired Bernier? It was passed around the league a bit after that; the Kings dealt it to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Marian Gaborik, and then the Blue Jackets sent it back to the Leafs with a third rounder in exchange for a late first round selection. That second round selection is now Travis Dermott #TheMoreYouKnow*

  • Bill-Burford

    He played better in LA only because he was with a team that had a good defensive core.Since he has been in Toronto he hasn’t done much.

    You can’t blame Riemer for the game seven melt down as the entire team was at fault.I would trade Bernier and keep Riemer.

  • Bill-Burford

    Hey Cat.No need to point that out.Never meant it that way.The article was very well written.

    All I said really was I don’t honestly believe he (Bernier)is that great.All one has to do is look at the way Scrivens played in LA.He was great when he went there.The team in front of you makes a real difference.

    The Leafs were in a sense trying to protect Bernier and sacrificing Riemer.Who played most of the better teams?Even Don Cherry said it one night on coaches corner.

    I still think Bernier should be traded but that’s just me.

    • Hey Bill! Don’t worry: if I respond to a comment, I’m not angry. I’m the nicest Leafs Nation writer ever 🙂

      From a technical standpoint, Bernier is easy to identify and he’s got a lot of consistency in his game that isn’t based on speed/reaction (which can be a problem if a goaltender gets older and either loses his speed or loses focus, which hurts reaction timing). His downside is always going to be that he gets injured but based on his understanding of the position, he’s got the fundamental structure tools to potentially evolve his game out of butterfly over time. That’s something that Belfour did, it’s not unreasonable to assume Bernier could as well.

      The Leafs in front of both goaltenders do make a huge difference, but there’s a lot more to protect in Reimer’s game and I don’t think the team’s limited defensive prowess was capable of that. He’d likely thrive more behind a much better team, whereas Bernier’s style is capable of thriving behind the Leafs regardless of how little they understand playing in their own zone.

  • Bill-Burford

    Again I say ” what a waste of money keeping Bernier, he’s done nothing that blows your mind away to deserve it and if anyone thinks he has, is smoking some great stuff………..

    As a re-build team (so they say) did not need to keep an over hyped, now over paid, just so so Goalie with the team……

    but he’s here and once again will be given the reins and be the favorite… Why Reims sucks it up again this year and sits most of the year out…oh well at least he’ll get paid to look good as he supports his team that continually hangs him out to dry…

  • Bill-Burford

    overrated and overpaid because of pedigree. his career stats are almost identical to “ahl goalie reimer”. should trade him asap to the highest bidder. hopefully get a 1st round pick. reimer can push through this awful rebuild until we finally draft and develop/acquire a great goalie.