When Is An Upgrade Not Really An Upgrade?

Is this guy worth what the Leafs paid to add him? - Joern Pollex

The Jonathan Bernier trade is being touted as an upgrade in net. Is it one?

Ok - so I've had at least 2 days to reflect on the Bernier trade, which as I stated last week I was firmly against.

Now that I've had some more time to reflect upon it - and argue with people on twitter about it - I actually think the trade is worse than I initially feared. But I think the reasoning on my part is slightly misunderstood by the average reader who thinks my perspective on things goes as follows:

"STATS STATS RANT STATS BLARGH!!!@$!@$!"

- Steve Burtch, whenever anything untoward happens that looks bad statistically.

I'm not saying - and have never said - that Jonathan Bernier is a BAD GOALIE. I repeat - I don't think Bernier is bad. I don't even think he's below average necessarily, or has no upside as a starter or will be a crappy backup.

Nowhere have I ever said this, and nowhere WILL I say it. My analysis to this point provides no evidence that Bernier will NEVER develop into a number one or that he is a horrible option for the Leafs in net. That isn't my point and has NEVER been my point. So anyone, anywhere, that thinks I'm crapping on Nonis et al for bringing in sub par talent is mistaken.

My concern with this trade, and it's an ongoing issue, is that I strongly disagree with the idea that there is any logical justification for the move when it comes to team-building in a Salary Cap NHL. The cap is decreasing this year, which means the space the team can allocate to each position is at a premium. The Leafs already over-spend on wingers, an area of strength, and they've reaped huge savings in goal with the tandem of Reimer and Scrivens, who drastically outperformed the NHL average in SV% while costing a pittance against the cap. The actually were the 2nd cheapest goaltending tandem in the NHL this season, as only the Washington Capitals had cheaper options in goal.

The chart below shows how much each team spent on goaltending against the Salary Cap this past season, along with their team SV%. Note that the Leafs have already qualified Bernier at $1.525 million for next season (his salary from this past year) while in the midst of negotiating a contract that likely sees his salary rise above that number.

Team 2012-13 Cap Hit Team SV%
Senators $4,270,935 0.935
Bruins $5,334,596 0.926
NY Rangers $8,175,000 0.925
Blue Jackets $3,297,001 0.924
Blackhawks $3,953,412 0.924
Sharks $4,821,678 0.922
Leafs $2,497,348 0.921
Oilers $7,452,020 0.920
Canucks $9,369,694 0.919
Red Wings $4,267,534 0.918
Capitals $1,926,576 0.917
Coyotes $3,425,758 0.917
Penguins $7,198,838 0.917
Ducks $5,680,556 0.917
Sabres $6,925,000 0.916
Stars $4,462,474 0.908
Kings $3,050,000 0.907
Canadiens $7,723,064 0.905
Wild $8,460,606 0.905
Islanders $11,115,314 0.905
Avalanche $4,188,179 0.905
Flyers $7,301,190 0.905
Jets $4,656,019 0.904
Blues $5,879,966 0.904
Predators $8,250,000 0.904
Lightning $3,379,293 0.903
Hurricanes $7,286,439 0.902
Devils $6,056,262 0.894
Flames $6,641,790 0.891
Panthers $3,256,818 0.891

So we're spending more on an area of "strength" - fine. But the problem here is, how much improvement will we see for our increased spending? If the Leafs end up paying Bernier over $2.5 million a year, they are suddenly paying north of $4.3 million a season on goaltending. That's an increase of roughly $2 million a year in salary on a position where they were already ranked 7th in the NHL by performance. Scrivens is scheduled to make $550,000 this coming season, and frankly saving $2 million that could be spent elsewhere makes a lot of sense.

The question that all of this raises is - how MUCH of an improvement over Scrivens would Bernier be? The problem here is that there is very little to indicate that the Leafs will see a drastically superior performance out of their recent acquisition. Yesterday I got into a debate (we'll call it a debate - I guess?) on Twitter that saw this type of tweet as a common refrain from those in favour of the trade:

Hmm - really? We think Bernier is a "proven winner w potential"? Why is that? He won the award as best goalie and was a first team all-star in the AHL back in 2009-10 and he was named the MVP of the QMJHL playoffs in 2006-07. But ... Scrivens was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, ECAC Goaltender of the Year and an ECAC first team all-star in the NCAA back in 2009-10. He also led the AHL in GAA and was named part of the "best goaltending duo" in 2011-12.

Look at their stats in their junior/NCAA years and the minors - and you begin to wonder what really separates the two of them drastically from a statistical stand point. First take a look at Scrivens statistics since 2005-06. Note how consistently he has posted decent SV% numbers, and has never really been "weak" or "inconsistent" for long stretches of play.

Season League GP GAA SV%
2005-06 AJHL 45 2.43 0.922
2006-07 NCAA 12 2.30 0.911
2007-08 NCAA 35 2.02 0.930
2008-09 NCAA 36 1.81 0.931
2009-10 NCAA 34 1.87 0.934
2010-11 ECHL 16 2.57 0.930
AHL 33 2.33 0.924
2011-12 AHL 56 2.00 0.930
NHL 12 3.12 0.903
2012-13 NHL 20 2.69 0.915
Career NCAA 117 1.93 0.930
ECHL 16 2.57 0.930
AHL 99 2.12 0.927
NHL 32 2.86 0.910

Now consider Bernier's numbers. People point to his QMJHL success, but realistically his numbers aren't particularly eye popping at that level in comparison to Scrivens' in the NCAA. If you look at his AHL numbers he had one extremely stellar season with the Manchester Monarchs, but then Scrivens has done virtually the same with the Marlies. In fact, their AHL SV%s are .927 for Scrivens and .928 for Bernier respectively. That's the difference of one goal every 1000 shots... in other words - NOBODY would be able to tell the difference by eye. And both goalies have around 100 AHL games played, which amounts to roughly 3500 shots faced or so. That's the closest thing to a reasonable comparison we're going to find for the two goalies as pros.

Season League GP GAA SV%
2004-05 QMJHL 24 2.93 0.910
2005-06 QMJHL 60 2.72 0.909
2006-07 QMJHL 54 2.50 0.910
2007-08 QMJHL 42 2.72 0.912
AHL 6 2.22 0.927
NHL 4 4.03 0.864
2008-09 AHL 54 2.40 0.914
2009-10 AHL 74 1.98 0.937
NHL 3 1.30 0.957
2010-11 NHL/WC 28 2.43 0.913
2011-12 NHL 16 2.36 0.909
2012-13 NHL 15 1.80 0.924
Career QMJHL 178 2.69 0.909
AHL 134 2.16 0.928
NHL 63 2.34 0.913

Now - if you focus on their NHL numbers, try to not get sucked in by Bernier's GAA, which does depend in large part upon the number of shots a goalie is facing. The LA Kings have consistently been one of the best teams in the NHL at reducing shots against over the past few years, while the Toronto Maple Leafs have excelled at the opposite - I guess that isn't really excelling?

Anyway - Scrivens sees a lot of rubber so his GAA will be slightly higher. But their Career NHL SV% of .913 for Bernier and .910 for Scrivens are again pretty damn close. Neither one has played enough games or seen enough shots to say with any certainty what they'll develop into as NHL goalies, but there is no reason to believe either one is significantly superior on the basis of the numbers we DO have.

If we assume Bernier gets a few more games than Scrivens did this year (which may not be the best thing as it might affect Reimer's play negatively), then what are the chances of the Leafs posting yet another .921 Team SV%? Well if Reimer plays 45-50 games and can post his career average of a .917 SV%, that means we need to get a .927 SV% out of Bernier - but of course if Bernier is playing that well, why wouldn't he be getting more starts? In which case things reverse themselves - but either way we're banking on the two goalies combining for a .920ish SV% again - at an extra couple of million dollars a season.

I guess the question becomes, why are we assuming Bernier's numbers will be so drastically superior to Scrivens' numbers? The only answer I can come back to is his "pedigree" which amounts to the fact that LA selected him 11th overall. But the SAME LA franchise that selected him 11th overall just traded him for a cheaper Ben Scrivens and Matt Frattin and a 2nd round draft pick, so obviously they valued those 3 things more highly than Bernier.

Which brings me to my next point - why did we include Frattin and a 2nd rounder AND $500,000 in Cap Space in the deal? Frattin is going to produce anywhere from 15-20 goals in a given season, the 2nd rounder and $500,000 in Cap Space likely work out to the equivalent of a 4th liner in value so say another 5 goals max. To be fair we should assume that some other players will take the place of Frattin but we aren't getting back the 2nd rounder or the Cap space, so I'm calling that a straight up loss. For the goal differential on Frattin we'll assume that's around 5-10 goals between him and his replacement.

So basically the Leafs think that Bernier is not only going to replicate what Scrivens added to the club, but enhance the team goal differential by approximately 10-15 more goals a season? That 10-15 goal improvement is roughly what we've sacrificed year over year in goal differential by losing Frattin, the draft choice, and the Cap hit. My back of the napkin calculations show that for a 10-15 goal improvement in differential to be provided by an added goalie over an outgoing goalie that produced a .910 career SV% playing a backup role for 25 games or so, would mean posting a regular SV% in the .923 range for those 25 games yearly.

Do we think Bernier OR Reimer are suddenly going to increase their seasonal SV% to a .923 on a regular basis as a backup - at the minimum? Alternatively, let's say one of the two manages to produce a .916 SV% in the backup role (Reimer's current career SV%). That's 5 of your goals against improvement right there. That means your starter needs to improve from a .916 career SV% goaltender to a .919 SV% goalie year over year. Again - I'm not sure why we think either Reimer or Bernier can suddenly improve to a .919 SV% goalie as a starter with regularity.

In fact - since 2000-01 in the NHL only 12 goalies have managed to play 50+ games in a season and post a SV% over .916 in 3 or more seasons. Some very good goaltenders like Jonas Hiller, Corey Crawford, Craig Anderson, and Kari Lehtonen have only managed to accomplish that objective once in their careers. It seems incomprehensible to me that we would ASSUME we'd suddenly see that type of performance out of Bernier OR Reimer going into the next 3-4 years.

All in all - I just don't think the price made sense for Bernier. I think he'll be a decent goalie in the future, and probably above average, but losing the goal production we'll see out of Frattin, and the cap space we could have saved with Scrivens in goal as a backup, and the $500,000 gift we granted the Kings, not to mention the 2nd round draft pick, is something that will be difficult to compensate for.

I expect most of this will be long forgotten in the future when Bernier finally starts playing games, but I'm of the opinion that a lot of these little moves add up over time, and I'm not sure they show me much about what sort of logic the front office is using in their decision making. Unfortunately from where I sit the logic is fairly fundamentally flawed and not informed by enough analysis of the possible positive and negative outcomes in the future.

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