There’s been a lot of focus on the Leafs’ goaltending for a while now, as it’s easily the most interesting storyline following the team over the last month or so. But in the immediate aftermath of a Garret Sparks shutout on Monday, and Mike Babcock essentially saying Jonathan Bernier would be the third choice among his netminders going into the team’s next game, the whole situation has been amplified and we’re now left wondering “What is going to happen with Bernier going forward?”
The easy answer is nothing. He’s going to ride the pine and back up Sparks right now and then back up Reimer when he returns from injury, while Sparks gets more starter work in at the AHL level. Simple.
But Bernier’s game has now reached such a low it honestly feels like Babcock is terrified of sending him out there, even once every few games. The coach has used the words “at what expense?” a number of times to describe getting the Bernier back in the fold, which really gives off the vibe of a painful lack of confidence. It’s just an all-round tough spot for both the netminder and coach.
How about waivers?
This would be quite unlikely, but the idea of placing Bernier on waivers for the purpose of seeing if he can rehab his game with the Marlies is picking up steam a little recently. For example, here are two radio spots from yesterday.
I mean, this kind of talk shouldn’t be all that surprising. I just put up my Christmas tree and Bernier hasn’t won a game yet this season.
Of course, if the team was to go the waiver route, that would mean opening themselves up to losing Bernier via claim from another club and getting nothing in return for him. Well, nothing in return besides the 4.15-million dollars they owe him annually until 2017.
It’s a tough sell to go down this road when you’ve built Bernier up as your go-to guy for the last two years, but let’s keep in mind his struggles have stretched back into the latter half of last season, and they’ve been doomsday level bad – .909 even-strength save-percentage and just .901 overall since January 1st, a 40-game stretch. This isn’t just a bad month.
A big part of me believes Bernier can ride out this rough patch to a degree. I mean, there’s no way he’s THIS bad. But at the same time, his performance over this calendar year has thrown in some major doubt about whether he can even be an average starter consistently going forward. For that reason I don’t think I’d be heartbroken if he was claimed and the Leafs recouped the cap space. [Stamkos won’t be cheap, after all.]
The thing is, the league is in such a weird place goalie-wise right now, and hoping for much, if anything, back in a potential trade for Bernier is probably a waste of time, and that may not improve much even if he gets back to somewhere near average. We saw Eddie Lack, with better numbers and a friendlier cap hit, traded for a 3rd and a 7th this past summer. The goaltender market is bonkers, and letting someone else pick up the 4.15-million dollar tab to see if Bernier can get back to respectable is not the end of the world. If that doesn’t happen, having him try to gain his form back in the AHL is fine too.
Losing Bernier without getting something back (particularly another goalie) would throw a stick in the tire of Leafs goaltending depth, but in today’s NHL, I’m not sure that’s a problem that can’t be quickly taken care of. As mentioned, Lack was traded for magic beans coming off a season with a .921 save-percentage. I think the Leafs can play a little game of chance here with their goaltending and see what happens with Bernier on waivers, and not be worse off for it regardless of what happens, and there’s a bargain bin of cheap backups out there if they need to patch things up.
Again, I’d probably be floored if the Leafs actually went this route, but the more I think about it, the less it concerns me.