Bernier to waivers is unlikely, but would it be so bad?

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.

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Ferraro here, Dreger here.

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. 

  • MatsSundin#13

    I agree with you Ryan, that at this point it wouldn’t be that bad to go the waiver route with Bernier. But I am cautious – suppose the Jets pelt Sparks tonight and he looks decidedly more human does the narrative change? It all depends on how Leafs management sees his future role in the organization. Personally, I would love to see him do well as winning can only bring confidence to this rebuilding group.

  • Kanuunankuula

    If he goes on waivers and is picked up its not the worst thing. Even getting nothing in return is offset by the cap space gained. 4.5 million against the cap is worth a second round pick in and of itself.

  • TGT23

    Here’s the thing, you can’t put him on waivers.

    The truth is, either going down or coming back up someone will claim him and you lose him for nothing. And while some think “sure, that sounds fine” it really isn’t.

    Part of the rebuild is getting value out of all your assets.

    Bernier has definitively proven he is not a bad goalie. This season has been rough, but he’s been above league average the last two years as a starter, When he fixes what’s wrong with him he’ll have value. He’ll be worth something to someone.

    Waiving him right now kills any future trade value he might have for the Leafs. And when some team claims him and fixes him he’ll be a free above league average goalie.

    And we gave him away for nothing.

    That’s not making the most out of assets.

    • TGT23

      I don’t think if he is claimed on waivers that we are losing him for nothing. I think in the cap era we have to start thinking of cap room as a valuable asset just by itself. Saving 4.5 against the cap is probably as or even more valuable than the 3rd or maybe 2nd round pick you would get in a trade. Not to mention that if a team is trading for Bernier they would probably want to make that trade salary nuetral or as close to it as possible. Besides I’m not convinced that any team would claim him. That is a pretty big salary to add this early in a season. We have seen all 3 of calgarys goalies go thu waivers and none were claimed. Bernier is better than all 3 of them but I’m just not convinced anyone would make the move.

      • TGT23

        But you are losing him for nothing. If you trade him you get something in return. If you trade him for picks you get the 4.5M of space AND the picks. If you trade him for prospects or players you get much of the 4.5 and assets. If you waive him and he’s claimed you get nothing but the 4.5M.

        And that isn’t really making the most of the asset.

        Not to mention the team isn’t under a cap crunch and his contract isn’t very long. What could possibly be available in this or next season that the team will desperately need the 4.5M?

        If you trade him for the 2nd or a 3rd… you get a 2nd or a 3rd AND the cap… or an expiring contract.

        Again, the point of a rebuild is to get value on all your assets. Get the 4.5M AND the pick. Or, rebuild his confidence and if Reimer goes down again or regresses we have our original Plan A back.