Well, at least he would fit in. - Ezra Shaw
The Toronto Maple Leafs are rumoured to be interested in acquiring Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings but is he an upgrade on James Reimer and Ben Scrivens? A look at some studies on how to best predict a goalie's performance and the trio's statistics suggest that he might not be worth pursuing.
The rumour that the Toronto Maple Leafs have an interest in trading for the Los Angeles Kings' goalie Jonathan Bernier apparently will not die despite it being a terrible idea to move assets for the 24 year old. In the summer, Andi Petrillo passed along a HockeyyInsiderr (not the funny one, at least not intentionally so) rumour that the Maple Leafs made an offer to Jonathan Bernier which didn't really make any sense because that's not how trades work. Chemmy's conclusion that it was likely a move to put a little bit of pressure on the Roberto Luongo trade negotiations with the Vancouver Canucks seemed right.
More recently, one of the last rumours to come out of the Brian Burke Era was that he was done negotiating with the Kings:
I'm told Brian Burke and the Leafs have said no thanks to the Kings regarding G Jonathan Bernier.— James Cybulski (@JamesCybulski) January 8, 2013
Sadly, it seems to have come back under new GM Dave Nonis. Although, you have to think that this is once again a bargaining tactic just like Gillis saying that he' be happy starting the season with two starters and multiple holes in his lineup is just posturing.
Leafs are kicking tires on Bernier according to Bobby Mac— Ryan (@rfan_3) January 16, 2013
Obviously, my reaction tilted towards abject panic that the Leafs might be about to part with some useful assets for a Bernier because he's not an upgrade on what the Leafs currently have. There was some dissent on Twitter about that as they either felt he was an upgrade (he's not) or felt it was better to pay less for Bernier than Luongo. I think it's better to trade for a really good goalie than a bad goalie even if one costs $4M more and is signed through to the next Mayan Apocalypse. Especially for a team that can afford almost any possible cap penalty under the "Luongo Rule" moreso when the salary cap will continue to increase as evidenced by the massive outpouring of attention that training camps have received.
In order to compare the three goalies, there are a few helpful articles that outline how best to predict a goalie's future save percentage. Tom Awad of Hockey Prospectus (get used to seeing that site name today) observed that you're better off using a goalie's full save percentage for this season if you want to predict his performance in the next season. Another interesting fact from that article reflected on the impact of a team's penalty kill on a goalie's penalty kill save percentage. Draglikepull had two posts that looked at the Leafs' inept penalty kill that might explain why the Leafs' save percentage was almost historically bad during the interlockout era. That's despite penalty kill save percentage being essentially random year-to-year.
Most importantly for our purposes is Eric T.'s post look at what metric - even strength save percentage or full save percentage - should be used to predict a goalie's future performance. You should obviously read the entire post but I'll clip in the conclusion:
So the overall picture then is that with small sample sizes you want to include all available data, but with large sample sizes you want to focus on the most relevant data. Tom Awad showed that overall save percentage will give the best outcomes if you are using only a single year to make your predictions. Up to about 100-150 games of career numbers, overall save percentage and even strength save percentage perform similarly. And in the long run, after 150+ games, even strength save percentage is the better predictor of a goalie's future success.
Having said that, here are the career NHL and AHL statistics for the Leafs' incumbents James Reimer and Ben Scrivens and the rumoured interloper Jonathan Bernier as well as contract information for all three:
#34 / Goalie / Toronto Maple Leafs
Mar 15, 1988
Current Cap Hit: $1.8M Through 2013-14
Contract Status After Expiry: Restricted Free Agent
#30 / Goalie / Toronto Maple Leafs
Sep 11, 1986
Current Cap Hit: $612,500 Through 2013-14
Contracts Status After Expiry: Unrestricted Free Agent
#45 / Goalie / Los Angeles Kings
Aug 07, 1988
Current Cap Hit: $1.25M Through 2012-13
Contract Status After Expiry: Restricted Free Agent
It's clear from a few angles that Bernier isn't an upgrade especially if the Leafs are going to be trading assets to acquire him. At the AHL level Bernier didn't outperform Scrivens by a noticeable amount and at the NHL level he doesn't represent an upgrade on Reimer. Contract-wise there's not really an advantage present either. On the off chance that the Leafs manage to succeed this year behind a tandem made up of any of these three then the Leafs will be in good position going forward to sign the goalies to favourable contracts either because of the leverage found in their contract status or because of short track records.
You can see the lack of a difference when we look at even strength save percentage. While there aren't a lot of data points, for now Bernier hasn't shown any separation from the Leafs' current duo:
Another issue that I hope will have an effect on the goaltending situation is that Reimer was, before Brian Gionta's dirty hit, clearly a better option that Bernier. Putting aside the ludicrousness of his injury situation from Glenn Healy calling him a faker to Brian Burke blowing his stack on Dave Feschuk, one thing that hopefully plays in Reimer's favour is the time that has passed. In Ben Scrivens' favour is that he has been playing regularly for the Marlies despite a poor start.
Could Bernier be an upgrade? Yes. Is there anything in his save percentages so far in his career that suggest that he is likely to be an upgrade? No. At this point, it's more important for the Maple Leafs to find out what they have in Scrivens and Reimer than to bring in another question mark.
There has been more than enough written about the Leafs acquiring Roberto Luongo so I won't add to the pile but there was an option that I wanted the Leafs to pursue if they were determined to hold off on seeing what they want to do with Reimer and Scrivens: Tomas Vokoun. According to reports, Burke's hang up was that he did not want to offer Vokoun a two-year deal. Of course, Pittsburgh eventually did and it will be interesting to see if he unseats Marc-Andre Fleury. The reticence to offer a second year was made even more curious by the fact that he later offered two years to Martin Brodeur. While I was tallying the even strength save percentage I decided to look up Vokoun's as well:
Maybe Burke thought that it made more sense to try to push a Luongo deal through than go with Vokoun but at the cost of no assets, increased development time, and a two-year deal at a measly $2M per I don't think he was barking up the right tree.