The Toronto Maple Leafs and Jonathan Bernier
By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)
The Toronto Maple Leafs' off-season may just be about to heat up.
Jonathan Bernier, once a star in net for the Los Angeles Kings and now a well-above-average backup goaltender, is a lock to switch teams this summer. Making the Bernier situation interesting is the fact the Kings reportedly have their trading partners narrowed down to two teams: the Philadelphia Flyers and the Maple Leafs.
Both the Leafs and Flyers are teams that no one would be surprised to see Bernier join. It's no secret that Leafs general manager Dave Nonis has been looking for help between the pipes since taking over from former GM Brian Burke. The Flyers are believed to be on the verge of buying out the remainder of Ilya Bryzgalov's contract, something they can't officially do until the Stanley Cup Final wraps up.
Maple Leafs fans have been wanting to see Bernier in the blue and white for quite some time now despite the strong play of James Reimer who is the biggest reason why Toronto finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and took the Boston Bruins to Game 7. But that ─ Reimer's strong play in net ─ is also why those same fans should look for the Maple Leafs to spend their money elsewhere.
It was common belief that Reimer didn't have what it would take to handle the pressure cooker that is the Toronto hockey market. No church-going, smiling, happy person could put up with the hundreds of thousands of fans and intense media scrutiny on a daily basis, right? They would crack and quickly become a minor league no-name, wouldn't they?
Instead, Reimer came through time and time again with big saves and stellar performances that not only kept the Maple Leafs in games but single-handedly won many of them.
His current cap hit is a very acceptable $1.8 million and at just 25 years of age and with only next season remaining on his current contract, Reimer's cost is sure to rise. It would only make sense to re-sign him if he keeps playing at this rate, making it unnecessary to spend at least if not more than $5 million per season on Bernier.
Rather than spend that $5 million ─ a number that might even be lower than what Bernier will actually see by the time he and his agent negotiate a contract with his new team ─ on goaltending (not to mention that Ben Scrivens is a more than capable backup), why not invest in a position that has actually struggled on ice? Of course we're talking about the blue line.
Although he is stellar and someone his teammates can believe in, James Reimer is not someone who can be heavily relied on during each game, nor is any other goalie in the NHL. It is unfair to the person in net and the chance for them to have a bad game always exists. Simply put, the Maple Leafs relied on their goaltending too much last season and that needs to change.
One way to change this is by bringing in players who have the confidence and ability to effectively shut down the opposition in a timely manner. The Buds' current defence roster looks something like this:
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Gardiner - Franson
Kostka - Liles
There's no denying the fact the Maple Leafs' defence corps is too thin. Phaneuf is certainly a strong and talented defenceman but he needs help. Gunnarsson had a rough season, Gardiner was rarely in the lineup for unexplainable reasons other than what Randy Carlyle, and only Randy Carlyle, believed to be defensive inefficiencies, Mike Kostka had about two weeks of solid play and John-Michael Liles simply needs a change of scenery.
The free agent defence market is thin this year, meaning it may be time to explore the trade route for new blue liners. It's unknown what the Maple Leafs would be willing to give up for Bernier but the chances of Nonis & Co. surrendering what the Kings are looking for seems less likely than the Flyers doing the same at this point.
That combined with the lack of a need for more goalies in Toronto makes it sensible to move on and see what the team can get for the same trade assets in exchange for a defenceman.
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