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.
|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.