Bernier is the same age as James Reimer, as half as much NHL experience and not as high of a save percentage in that brief span. If the Maple Leafs were to be making a deal for Bernier, they would be paying purely for potential because there just isn’t enough evidence on the surface showing that Bernier has what it takes to be a capable starter in the NHL.
In 2008, the season that Bernier first played NHL games, the Kings had seven goaltenders, including four that were 25 or younger. Erik Ersberg and Danny Taylor were pruned, and left Jonathan Quick the starter’s job as he outplayed Bernier over the next two seasons.
Pierre LeBrun on Leafs Lunch today suggested that goaltending coach Bill Ranford was very high on Bernier, but you can’t think that L.A. is that into him. They signed Jonathan Quick to a ten-year, big money deal that all but sealed Bernier’s fate as somebody the Kings didn’t think could be part of a 1A-1B combination, or one that they weren’t willing to commit to.
This is what makes the Leafs desired marriage with Bernier dicey. James Reimer is, by any objective standard as to what they’ve currently accomplished, the better goaltender. There is, though, a reason to be wary of Bernier for more than the cost of trading for him. You still have to re-sign him to a contract for which there aren’t many comparables. Not a lot of goaltenders who could be No. 1s are signed when they aren’t No. 1s. Perhaps Semyon Varlamov, who signed a three-year, $2.8M deal after being traded from Washington to Colorado. Anders Lindback signed a two-year, $1.8M deal being transferred from Nashville to Tampa Bay.
Bernier probably fancies himself closer to Varlamov, and while I don’t discourage Bernier looking for a team to cash in with, is this where the Leafs need to spend their money? The goaltending UFA market is pretty dry, but good goaltenders tend to pop out of the woodwork because they’re pretty replaceable. The difference between an elite goaltender is about 0.44 goals per game. It takes about 12 starts for a replacement goaltender to cost a team a win compared to the greatest goaltender in the world.
And that’s when dealing with wide gaps. When you look into the value of somebody like Bernier (career save rate .912) versus somebody in the Leafs’ organization like Drew MacIntyre or Ben Scrivens, or a UFA like Jason LaBarbera or Brian Boucher. You don’t need an all-world, all-potential goaltender to come in and steal games and playoff series’.
It would obviously be nice to have 1A and 1B goaltenders, but for the cost of acquiring a goalie as quality as Reimer, the Leafs may be better off cutting the work at the margins, getting a veteran backup you know can perform better than Scrivens and slap him with 30 starts. Goaltending is witchcraft, and you can sort goaltenders into “guys who will probably do well” and “guys who probably won’t”. You know where Reimer sits, but not sure about Bernier who, again, has 54 career starts in seven years since being drafted.
Maybe Bernier is a good goaltender. Certainly, if the LA Kings suddenly folded, there was a dispersal draft and the Leafs ended up with Bernier on a good contract, it’s silly to think that the team wouldn’t be better off with some Reimer health insurance.
LeBrun did mention that Dean Lombardi promised Bernier in his exit meeting that Bernier wouldn’t have to come back to the Kings. Perhaps if the Leafs were able to sign him to an offer sheet worth between $1.68M and $3.36M, that would cost the team just a second round pick, and Lombardi would be in a tough spot matching the deal. If he matched, the Kings wouldn’t be able to trade him for a year.
***Since I’ve got some questions on that, this does seem sort of unrealistic because the Kings may be wanting to move Bernier before the draft. Philadelphia apparently want him real badly, and it wouldn’t be good for Dave Nonis to try and out-bid Paul Holmgren on a goaltender. You can only start signing offer sheets on July 5 the first day of free agency. But the Leafs’ backup goaltender is a secondary need at this point and it can wait until the free agent period. If Bernier is available, I’d sign him to one. If not, I’d look at a veteran who just wants a place to play.
That said, if the Leafs want him to be a starter and Bernier will only play if he’s a starter, that makes no sense. The Leafs have a guy who can capably start, and there’s no objective evidence that exists that suggests Bernier would be better at this point. He may be, but there is a long list of teams who made huge deals for a big-name goaltender and it came back to bite them down the road.