The Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending controversy has hit a shocking twist, as their highest paid goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, is being sent to the American Hockey League on a conditioning stint.
Bernier to Marlies for ten days.
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) December 2, 2015
Bernier did not participate in today’s practice, situating himself in his own room while waiting for James Reimer, Garret Sparks, and the rest of the team to finish. It was a weird situation that caused a lot of confusion as it all unfolded but now makes more sense with Bernier technically being off of the roster.
Conditioning typically last as long as fourteen days, which would allow Bernier to participate in as many as six games with the Marlies. However, if the initially reported ten-day timeline is correct, only three of those land in the window; all of them occurring this weekend. The Marlies head to Rochester on Friday night, before playing a pair of home games against the Manitoba Moose on Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday game will be played in the Air Canada Centre, potentially allowing Bernier to regain his mojo in his own building.
The assignment will be Bernier’s first appearance in the AHL since suiting up for the Manchester Monarchs in the 2009/10 playoffs. Bernier has a 0.922 SV% in 134 AHL regular season and playoff games.
Here’s what the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement has to say about conditioning stints:
13.8 Conditioning Loan. Unless a Player consents, he shall not be Loaned on a Conditioning Loan to a minor league club. Such Conditioning Loan shall not extend for more than fourteen (14) consecutive days. The Commissioner may take whatever steps he deems necessary toinvestigate the circumstances under which a Player is Loaned on a Conditioning Loan.
If the Commissioner has reason to believe or determines that the Club has used the Conditioning Loan to evade Waivers, or otherwise Circumvent any provision of this Agreement, he may take such disciplinary action against the Club, as he deems appropriate. The Player shall continue, during the period of such Conditioning Loan, to receive the same Paragraph 1 NHL Salary, and be entitled to the same benefits, that he would have received had he continued to play with the Club.
In a case like Bernier’s, he would have to mutually agree to the transaction, which he presumably has. The last Leafs goaltender to be sent down on a conditioning assignment was Jonas Gustavsson, who played five games with the team in 2010/11 in two different stretches in February 2011 as he recovered from his heart ablation mini-surgeries he underwent to correct his irregular heartbeat. In those games, Gustavsson went 3-1-1 and had a 0.955 save percentage.
Bernier heads down with ambitions to do the same performance-wise. Unless something is being hidden from the public, the 27-year-old’s struggles aren’t due to health. We’re not sure what they are, really; it could be teams figuring out his technique, a psychological block of confidence, or something completely different.
Whatever the case, this week and a half has the potential to turn around Bernier’s season. Rather than sitting off to the side, feeling anguish over his struggles while watching two goalies play ahead of him on a road trip, he can return home, dedicate the entire time to refocusing his game, and get in some lower-level action to put test himself along the way. It’s not a stretch to say that he needs it; through nine appearances this year, Bernier has a 0-8-0 record and 0.888 SV%, both the worst of his career.
He could also play a positive role on Marlies goaltender and fellow French-Canadian Antoine Bibeau, who with a 0.869 SV% through ten games, is going through struggles of his own. If Bernier is truly committed to himself over the stretch, it may inspire Bibeau to hit his own personal reset button. Neither has a guaranteed chance at rebounding quickly, but with them both being near the worst in their leagues statistically thus far, there isn’t much to lose and a heck of a lot to gain.
Besides, no matter who you want to see succeed, it’s hard to hope for somebody to fail. Especially when they still have a year and a half left on a two-year, $8.3 million contract.
Sparks and the Leafs will take on the Jets tonight while Reimer will suit up against Minnesota tomorrow. Bernier’s first game with the Marlies could come as early as Friday.