We are almost 2 months into the Jonathan Bernier era in Toronto (if we can in fact call it an ‘era’) and opinions remain mixed over whether he should have ever arrived.
Fans' thoughts around Bernier and the trade that brought him here seem to fall in line with four primary themes.
1) James Reimer's play last year did not warrant expending assets on another goalie. This is, to some extent, very true. Reimer posted some of best numbers of his career, finishing with an even strength save percentage of .924 and goals against average of 2.46. At 25 years of age it is entirely possible Reimer is arriving as a top 10-15 goalie in the NHL. And since you can only ice one goalie at a time, Bernier represents a redundancy. That is unless the Leafs are planning to transition one of the two netminders into a forward - anecdotal evidence indicates this would be pretty awesome.
2) Reimer has never been healthy during a full, 82 game season, forcing management to add a potential starting goalie. This again, is a valid argument. Reimer has started 43%, 42%, and 65% of Leafs games over the past 3 seasons. Yes, a lot of his injury woes can be traced back to the wayward Gionta elbow and subsequent concussion symptoms, but he still hasn’t been consistently healthy. After watching Ben Scrivens play last year many fans (myself included) were not comfortable with him as a defacto starter should something have happened to Riemer.
3) Bernier has been the best backup in the NHL and possess the potential to be a star goalie for years to come. Drafted 11th overall in 2006 Beriner comes with the cache of being a highly touted prospect. Reimer, on the other hand, was drafted in the 4th round. Where a player was drafted should not dictate their value in the league, but it can be used as an accurate barometer for how the league felt about the player in his draft year.
Both goalies are the same age - this isn't a case of a young prospect pushing an aging veteran. Regardless of draft position both goalies could be improving and have the potential to be top 15 netminders in the league for years to come. The question here is did the team need to have two players at the same age with similar potential playing a position where only one can play at a given time.
4) Signing Bernier to a $2.9 million dollar contract has resulted in the Leafs current cap crunch. It is embarrassing that the team managed to conduct business this offseason while forgetting to keep enough money lying around for top RFAs Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri. The question is whether or not the Bernier trade resulted in an over investment of cap dollars between the pipes.
To answer this, I took a look at Cap Geek and their function called Positional Comparison. Here you can compare cap hits across different teams for the same position. Below are goaltender cap hits for the top and bottom teams. (Note, dollars listed include all goalies on the current roster, including injured reserve)
1. Calgary Flames $9.5 Million
2. New Jersey Devils $8.5 Million
3. New York Rangers $8.2 Million
19. Toronto Maple Leafs $4.7 Million
28. New York Islanders $3.8 Million
29. Philadelphia Flyers $3.2 Million
30. Florida Panthers $2.4 Million
At 19th overall, the Leafs investment in net actually under indexes compared to the rest of the league. The bleak cap situation may be rooted within the forward group. Once Kadri is signed (one has to believe this will happen eventually) the team will be in the top 10 of the league in cap dollars allocated to forwards. Bringing this back to the point above, did Berniers contract play a role in the lack of dollars available - the answer appears to be no. Even with Beriner and Reimer under contract for 2013-14 the Leafs have managed to stay below the league average for goaltenders.
Where Nonis may deserve some credit (and this feels weird to even write) is if Bernier is able to have a strong season and establish himself as the undisputed starter. In this scenario, the team would have two options with James Reimer: shop him at the 2013-14 trade deadline, or trade his rights in the offseason as an RFA.
Entering the 2014-15 season Bernier is still under contract at his cap hit of $2.9 million. Assuming the Leafs signed a veteran back up or promoted from within, their total investment in net would fall in the $4million range. This would put them 27th out of 30 teams in terms of goaltender investment. Allowing for greater financial freedom in other areas (*cough* signing Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf). Additionally, Bernier would be an RFA at the end of 2014, which may keep his next contract at a reasonable number.
I don’t mean to give Dave Nonis too much credit here. This is the same fella that thinks David Clarkson will be effective in his mid 30s and believes Tyler Bozak is a top line centerman (but he is so good at faceoffs!). However, should Bernier assert himself as a bonafide starter the team will reap rewards both on the ice and on the balance sheet. Furthermore, having Bernier has afforded the team increased security in net in the event Reimer's health or level of play falters.
Of all the moves made this offseason, this is one that I can at least somewhat understand. Whether or not it works out depends entirely on what Jonathan Bernier is, or isn’t for Leafs this year and next.