Jonathan Bernier becomes a lot more tradeable tomorrow

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a gift and a curse right now, and that’s the abundance of questionable, short term contracts remaining on their roster. Many of their veterans are getting paid more than their performance indicates they’re worth, but those deals are also expiring in short order. 

Jonathan Bernier is one of those players. The 27-year-old struggled for much of last year and appears to have been usurped by the dependable, slightly younger Frederik Andersen, and is now Toronto’s $4.15 million backup goaltender for next year.

It’s a sticky situation. But, if the Leafs wanted to rid themselves of it, they’re in good position to do so starting tomorrow. 

Bernier’s contract is structured a little differently from what the cap hit might independently suggest. He’s paid the same amount of money ($4,150,000) in both years, but a little under half of it ($2,000,000) comes in the form of a signing bonus. Players usually integrate signing bonuses to minimize the amount of money lost in the event of a buyout; not to mention the fact that it gives them a lump sum of money every July 1st.

This means, however, that once Toronto pays Bernier his cash tomorrow, they – or any other team – only need to fork up $2,150,000 in real dollars over the course of the year. This makes taking a risk on him as a super-backup is more palatable to teams with a lot of cap space, especially budget teams that are cost conscious.

Here are a few destinations that could make sense in some way, shape or form.

Team Cap Space Signed Starter Backup
New Jersey Devils $27,582,859 11 C. Schneider (0.924) K. Kinkaid (0.904)
Arizona Coyotes $25,401,629 14 M. Smith (0.916) L. Domingue (0.912)
Carolina Hurricanes $24,666,669 18 C. Ward (0.909) E. Lack (0.901)
Boston Bruins $21,648,333 14 T. Rask (0.915) M. Subban (AHL)
Calgary Flames $19,957,935 18 B. Elliott (0.930) None
Florida Panthers $18,766,668 19 R. Luongo (0.922) R. Berra (0.922)
Anaheim Ducks $15,695,834 15 J. Gibson (0.920) None
St. Louis Blues $15,245,418 18 J. Allen (0.920) A. Nilsson (0.901)

The two that stand out the most to me are New Jersey and Florida. 

Keith Kinkaid hasn’t been the heir-apparent that many thought they would get out of over-ripening him, and if the final Martin Brodeur years taught us anything, it’s that giving too many games to a below-replacement starter is a death wish for the Devils. The team is also, obviously, Lou Lamoriello’s former employer; one can assume there’s a connection there.

Florida would be a more interesting option if it wasn’t for Reto Berra’s success as a backup last year. The stats savvy team would no doubt be aware of Bernier’s potential to bounce back this season, and they’d be a great place for him to do it. Justin Bourne of The Score (now the Toronto Marlies’ video coach) wrote an article back in September of 2014 about how Florida’s defensive systems play to Roberto Luongo’s strengths and helped him get his career on track. 

While the Panthers have changed coaches since, Gerard Gallant’s defensive structure hasn’t changed much and his defense corps have only gotten better. Add in Bernier’s relatively similar technique to Luongo, and the ability to shelter him with easy starts while Luongo takes the heavy workload, and that might be the perfect place to orchestrate a pump-and-dump. But, alas, figuring out what to do with Berra might throw a wrench in that plan.

It’s also entirely possible that the Leafs ride this one out. Clearing cap space made a lot more sense when the team was wooing Steven Stamkos, but now that he’s chosen to stay in Tampa Bay, there really isn’t a need to start panic selling players. 

You might see a bit of that up that up front solely due to the club’s abundance of forwards, but if the Leafs want to maximize both their assets and their odds at success, it might make sense to stand pat. 

Bernier’s end-of-season numbers were the worst of his career and it’s unlikely that he’s completely fallen off a cliff, as evidenced by his late-season push. Maybe Toronto could play the role of the sheltering team, throwing Andersen to the wolves while letting Bernier play the supposed ‘cleanup starts’.

There’s a lot of possibilities at play, but there’s no denying that paying his bonus tomorrow opens up quite a few more.

  • MatsSundin#13

    My position on Bernier is “hold.”

    Firmly plant him as the backup, and hope that he has trade deadline value a la Reimer last year. This way, you get one last look at a former top goalie prospect with unrealized potential. If he somehow realizes it in 15 starts, then you’re getting a heck of a lot more for a team looking to shore up their goalie depth at the deadline.

    I’d be looking at the glut of forward depth when trying to shed salary – it opens up roster spots for prospects. I think most people would be more comfortable with our current goalie prospects in the minors than watching Leivo/Brown/Leipsic get pushed out.

  • FlareKnight

    Yeah, at this point I see no reason to make a trade. Sure if there is some great offer, but I doubt there will be one.

    The Leafs have more than enough cap space to sign their RFAs. That’s all they really need to do. Be nice to continue looking around to upgrade the defense, but probably not doing that in free agency. Having Bernier as a backup is better than some guys they could get to fill the spot.

    Let him backup for a year then let him go. If it’s about protecting the young players having someone like Bernier play those 20-25 games is good.

  • wallcrawler

    First off, we’ve seen that no matter who gets paid more, Babcock is going with the goalie who is playing good. Yes Bernier had a rough start but after the stint with the Marlies he regained his confidence to the point that Babcock had to sit him lest he play the leafs out of the best odds for the number 1 pick.
    Also let’s see what the new goalie equipment changes how goalies play the game. I’ve read they’re going to look 6 inches smaller this coming season, so goalies that use their bodies to block shots like Reimer and Miller , might have a harder time making saves. Which means if rather have the technical goalie if that’s the case.

  • Gary Empey

    I think Bernier has a big problem handling the stress of being an NHL starter. Let’s face it, there has to be a tremendous amount of stress at the NHL level. Everyone blames the goalie for the games we loose. Bernier always seemed to play much better when he doesn’t have to sit around for a few days worrying about starting. When he unexpectedly gets thrown in, he looks good. Look at all those really soft goals at the start of the games he started. That has to be nerves. When they took the stress off and sent him to the Marlies, what does he do? Three shutouts. Just because a goalie looks calm, inside he must be feeling the pressure.

    As Jeff says, after July 1 we only have to pay him, $2,150,000 in real dollars for the rest of the year. That is reasonable for a good backup. Keep him around this year. Just don’t tell him he is starting until game time.