Perhaps Jonathan Bernier was doomed from the start of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After all, James Reimer had just single-handedly ended a Leafs playoff drought that spanned almost 10 years. It probably didn’t help Bernier’s cause that Reimer rode into town as a folk hero of sorts in 2011. You don’t get the nickname “Optimus Reim” because of how nice of a guy you are. He took a team that was in shambles and got them back in the playoff race without a whole lot of help from anybody. More importantly, he had proven to the fans and to the city that he could be counted on. Fans believed in him in a way that they never could with Raycroft, Toskala, Gerber, Giguere, Aubin, Gustavsson, McDonald, 2009 Joseph Tellqvist, Pogge, Clemmensen, Scrivens (wow they’ve had a lot of goalies since Belfour). When he took the Bruins to game 7 in 2013 people were ready to anoint him king.
Dave Nonis did a lot of strange things when he was GM. One of the strangest moves might have been when he acquired Bernier from the Kings in June 2013. You’re probably thinking “NO WAY! This is the guy that bought out Grabovski, traded for Dave Bolland, signed David Clarkson, traded John-Michael Liles for Tim Gleason and then bought out Tim Gleason.” At least with those ones Nonis was trying to fix something that was a problem. The Leafs couldn’t play in their own end and had glaring holes up front as well. He did a terrible job trying to fix those problems but he tried. The Bernier trade was upgrading something that was in great working condition.
Imagine having a busted fridge and oven (offence and defence in this scenario) but your microwave (James Reimer) is working so great that it’s the best microwave you’ve had in 10 years. DAVE NONIS BOUGHT A NEW MICROWAVE! Then when anybody went over to his house and pointed out that his fridge and oven don’t work he kept showing them his fancy new microwave
Going forward Reimer is a UFA this summer and Bernier is signed for one more year at $4.15M. The fact that both goalies naturally want to be a starter in the NHL should give you a pretty good indication that both of them won’t be here by the time the puck drops on next season.
Asset management is such a big part of sports and being able to maximize the players you have at your disposal, especially in a rebuild, is one of the most important jobs a GM has. That can’t happen if Bernier doesn’t turn it around because there are not very many teams calling about a $4M dollar goalie that can’t stop the puck. Bernier needs to find his form again and do it fast.
Mike Babcock has made it clear that he doesn’t trust Bernier in net and that he’s out of chances at least for the time being. James Reimer is still not going to be back for today’s game. Bernier got passed over so that Garret Sparks can make his NHL debut. That’s where Babcock is at right now and it puts the team in a very delicate situation.
Reimer is not just the Leafs best goalie right now but he’s been one of the best in the league this season. Like I said earlier he also happens to be a UFA this summer and his history with the team might mean he would rather move on and start fresh then come back to Toronto. However, the opportunity to be the starter and the loyalty he seems to show for the team that gave him a chance to live out his NHL dream could persuade him to stay. I think money probably goes a long way to helping that decision
With Jonathan Bernier the Leafs have a goalie that sits 9th from the bottom in save percentage despite being one of the 30 highest paid goalies in the league. He can’t be traded while he’s playing this poorly and his coach doesn’t trust him enough to play so that he can work his way out of this. He’s caught in a tough place.
It’s still too early for the Leafs to completely give up on Bernier and go all in on Reimer. If you look at their numbers Bernier and Reimer still have virtually identical career stats despite James significantly outplaying him all season. Reimer may very well end up as the better goalie when all is said and done but it’s also important to recognize that this is a small sample size in a much larger career. There was a time when Montreal Canadiens fans wanted the team to trade Carey Price and he turned out to be pretty good.
If you’re a Leafs fan you should be cheering for Bernier to turn it around. You can be part of Tank Nation and still want him to at least play well while the team loses. Don’t forget that this is what you wanted. If you want to be in on the Auston Matthews sweepstakes this losing is going to have to go on for a lot longer. But you should still want for every player on this team to play the best they’ve ever played. The better they perform the more draft picks the Leafs get at the deadline.
Cheer on Bernier because if nothing else, a good Jonathan Bernier has value to the other 29 teams in the league. Every time he lets in a goal from centre ice stop, take a deep breath, and cheer.
Mike Babcock said there would be pain.
Follow me on twitter @_JaredClarkson and tell me what you would do with Jonathan Bernier