The Jonathan Bernier story this season doesn’t appear to be going away. We’re over a third of the way through the season and he doesn’t have a win. He’s been passed on the depth chart by both Reimer and Sparks, he’s had an AHL conditioning stint, he’s been called out by his coach, and we’re at the point where there’s significant indifference to placing him on waivers, largely because there’s a belief he won’t be claimed.
Enter The Calgary Flames. Sportsnet, has speculated the Flames are one of a few teams that believe that Bernier just needs a chance of scenery (for what’s worth, I agree). And with Brian Burke and Brad Treliving watching the Leafs play Tampa this week, there may be something to this.
The first thing to remember is that we are well into the Brian Burke trade freeze period, so don’t expect anything to happen fast on this. Think of this as a New Year’s resolution type deal, where the Leafs try to shed a 190 lbs. and start feeling great again.
Secondly, the Leafs are going to be taking back an expiring goaltender contract either in the form of Jonas Hiller (preferable) or Karri Ramo (won’t be the first time he’s been on waivers this year.)
Like Bernier, Ramo ($3.8 million) and Jonas Hiller ($4.5 million) aren’t earning their salaries. But they both come off the books this summer. Calgary will need an experienced goalie next season, and Bernier is signed through 2016-17 — at a $4.125-million cap hit.
Perhaps an exchange of clunky contracts that sends Hiller, 33, to Toronto could rejuvenate the netminders with fresh starts while allowing prospects such as Joni Ortio and Garret Sparks to keep developing in the minors. The way Bernier is playing, however, Toronto might need to toss in another piece.
So, I’m not sure I get why Toronto necessarily needs to add another piece. The Flames are choosing to roll the dice on Bernier improving, and the Leafs get the luxury of getting out of Bernier’s contract next season and if he does rebound, he does so in another conference. I’m not sure I see the need to make this deal any bigger, but it’s also not like the Leafs are short on spare parts they can toss in.
Whether this deal makes sense or not entirely comes down to if you believe it’s necessary to cut ties with Bernier. If the Leafs were to waive him, there aren’t too many teams that would take a gamble on $4M salary for this year and next. He’d have an extended window to try and sort out his game. The Leafs aren’t in any immediate cap trouble in the next couple of seasons, so there’s no sense of urgency.
On the other hand, who really knows what next year will bring? Cutting ties now might also mean that the Leafs can begin negotiating with James Reimer, who may or may not be an option you want to consider for next season, or it could just be having $4M extra kicking around isn’t a horrible problem to have. It’s not likely you’d need to dump into all into a new goaltender since Cam Ward, Ben Scrivens and others will all likely be taking heavily discounted deals to show they still belong in the league.
Long and short of it is that there appear to be more options for Bernier than some of us may have realized. The NHL isn’t quick to give up on goaltenders that were selected in the first round, even if logic dictates otherwise. For now Bernier is the backup to Garret Sparks, and if the New Year brings a healthy Reimer, we can expect some form of shakeup to happen in early January.