Friday is the day that arbitration enthusiasts have long
waited for, the arbitration of Jonathan Bernier. This may seem like something
destined to be settled hours before it starts. It may seem like an event
destined to disappoint as an unknowing arbitrator decides to split the
difference and award a one year at the obvious compromise point. Fair enough,
but the arbitration is interesting and different for a few reasons…
1. “Enhanced” Stats are now on the table. This
doesn’t mean much when it comes to a goaltender, but looking at team enhanced
stats could be an interesting part of the argument. The Leafs are armed with a
pretty solid team in this area, although it’s likely that Bernier’s camp has
the stronger argument as it’s relatively easy to state he’s played behind some
2. The Leafs have a capologist who isn’t Claude
Loiselle. It’s much more likely that Brandon Pridham won’t panic and ultimately
decide that it’s worth paying Bernier more for his potential. The Leafs seem to
value the new found cap space that Pridham was earned for them and it’s not
likely they’ll give away any money without a fight.
3. The Lou Lamoriello factor. Lou seems to have a
bit of a reputation of a hard ass. It’s possible that he’ll be a very intense
opponent for Bernier in this hearing.
Here at The Leafs Nation we feel you deserve a proper
arbitration so I’ve gathered to the two greatest hockey minds in the business,
Cat Silverman representing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ryan Fancey representing
Jonathan Bernier. I thought long and hard about whom was the most just person I
know and best to judge the outcome of this hearing, and have decided it’s
It should be noted that Ryan was asked to come with a high number on behalf of Bernier and Cat was asked to come with a low number on behalf of the Leafs. I can only assume that these are not the actual dollar amounts they believe Bernier should receive.
First up, Ryan Fancey
representing Jonathan Bernier:
1. Workload. Only 16 goaltenders have played more than 110 games over the
past two seasons, and Jonathan Bernier is in that group, currently ranking 14th
in that regard with 113GP. The Maple Leafs have clearly identified him as their
go-to option in net and have played him as such. If not sidelined by injury, he
likely would have surpassed 60 games played in each of the last two seasons,
something only a handful of goaltenders have done. Meanwhile, for goaltenders
who have appeared in 50-or-more games combined over the last two seasons,
Bernier has faced the fourth-most shots-per-game (31.17) and if you focus that
group to 100-or-more games he’s second only to Semyon Varlamov.
2. Save Percentage. While Bernier’s save percentage saw a dip below average
this past season, he performed well above average in 2013-14, and finished 7th
league-wide in all-situations save-percentage for goaltenders who started 30
games or more. His save percentage in 2013-14 was comparable to Sergei
Bobrovsky and Ben Bishop with a similar workload, and it should be noted the
latter earned a Vezina Trophy nomination for those type of numbers. Had the
team in front of Bernier performed better and didn’t allow his
goals-against-average to inflate, he may have received Vezina votes as well.
3. Peers. Brayden Holtby of the Washington Capitals recently settled on
deal with a $6.1-million average cap hit. Over the last two seasons, Holtby and
Bernier have comparable numbers. Bernier appeared in 113 games with a
save-percentage of .918 while his counterpart suited up for 121 games and
posted a .920 save-percentage. However, it should be noted that while Bernier
played eight fewer games, his total shots faced was actually higher – 3522 to
3519. Factoring in the the vastly lower quality of team playing in front of
him, you could argue Bernier’s numbers are further skewed unfavorably due to
his environment. For all these reasons he should be paid at least along the
same level as Holtby.
Now representing the
Maple Leafs, Cat Silverman:
1. Inconsistency. The Leafs have been the picture of inconsistency over the
last few seasons in all three zones, so it’s unfair to pinpoint all of
Bernier’s struggles (which saw him rank fifth league-wide saves above average,
or GSAA, in 2013-2014 — then drop to the bottom half of the league in the same
statistic in 2014-2015) on him alone.
That being said, it’s also unfair to assume two things. One, it’s unfair to
assume that he’ll find stability in his game in 2015-2016, even with a new
netminding coach — and two, it’s unfair to assume that he’ll be able to find
stability behind what’s very clearly a rebuilding roster. While a player’s
salary shouldn’t be based on the play of his teammates, there’s also no reason
to believe that Bernier is necessarily deserving of a giant raise.
2. Lack of sample size. While we consider Bernier to be a starter, he has
yet to record a full sixty-game season in the NHL. There’s no definitive proof
that he can effectively add to his win column if he does hit sixty games
3. Penchance for injury. There’s a reason Bernier hasn’t started in sixty
games yet — he’s a hybrid butterfly goalie, but tends to revert to butterfly
when he’s pressed by the opposition. Like most butterfly netminders, he’s
gotten hurt a lot as a result — and as he gets older, that’s only going to
become more of a problem. He’s worth money if you give him 40-50 starts a
season, splitting the net with James Reimer and hoping he doesn’t pull
something – but once again, this deal is being signed with no supporting
evidence that the team can expect more than that from him.
While as an arbitrator it is in my nature to split this deal
directly down the middle and award $4.95M I’ve decided to break from tradition
and put some actual thought into my ruling rather than grab the quick payday.
The argument that only 13 goaltenders have seen more games
in net than Jonathan Bernier clearly demonstrates that the Leafs have a high
level of trust in him and see using him as an important part of their success.
The fact that Bernier’s injuries prevented him from being used further shows an
even greater intent to see him go beyond what he’s already achieved.
I did however also need to consider that results have been
inconsistent or undesired. As a player seeking a six million dollar payday it
would be necessary to see stronger individual numbers despite playing in front
of a team that may skew his numbers unfavourably. Both the 2013-14 and the
2014-15 Maple Leafs teams had similar rosters so the decline of Bernier in
2014-15 seems to be of his own making. Bringing in a new goaltending coach
seems to speak to being dissatisfied with the results being achieved at the
The two contract comparables I considered when making my
ruling were those of Steve Mason, and Braden Holtby.
Mason has started around the same number of games as Bernier
on a team in a similar situation. He is compensated at $4.1M AAV, has a backup
of similar capacity as Bernier, is the same age and but has marginally stronger
numbers. His contract was signed last season and was a multiyear deal.
Braden Holtby’s contract is more recent, and carries term as
well with an AAV of $6.1M. Holtby unlike Bernier saw his numbers improve with
an improved team in 2014-15 and started in more than 70 games. He is also
slightly younger than Bernier. The Bernier did an admirable job of arguing the similarities
but looking at their careers there is a case for not awarding Bernier an AAV
similar to Holtby.
My decision will be based closely on the Mason deal. I’ve
considered Mason’s deal would likely be higher this season due to the increase
in the NHL salary cap, and I’ve concluded that the Flyers have a lower AAV due
to the length of the contract. With the cap inflation Mason’s contract would be
4.26M annually, and by not giving term to Bernier I’ve decided to award an
Arbitration Award is $4.76M
So rules the TLN arbiter.
“He knew when to compromise. Yet he never compromised his principles. He was a militant. Yet a militant who knew how to plan, assess concrete situations and emerge with rational solutions to problems.”- Nelson Mandela