I have seen some strange reactions to the Jonathan Bernier trade in the last few days. Some people think the Leafs gave up too much, others question why we need a goalie that has “proven” less, supposedly, than the goalies we already had. One rather bizarre article compared the apples and oranges of Bernier’s and Scriven’s minor league careers and came up with the unreasonable conclusion that there is no difference between the two. All this is rather shocking to me because I believe the trade is not only a win for the Leafs, but an outright steal. I think I can prove this to you by overcoming all of the objections I have seen.
1. The Leafs didn’t need goaltending.
The Leafs did need goaltending. I have never heard anyone say that James Reimer is a franchise goalie. I have watched him play for parts of three years and I think – like any goalie capable of making the NHL – he could go on a Craig Anderson, Tim Thomas, Jim Carey-like tear and be amazing for a year or two or ten. Goaltending is an unpredictable position where sometimes the guys who aren’t thought by scouts and analysts to have the most talent become the best players. That being said, there are usually about five or so guys (think Price, Luongo, Lundqvist, Brodeur, Roy, etc.) in the league at any given time who are good consistently year to year and who make their teams almost automatic contenders. It makes sense that, no matter how happy you are with your current goaltender, that you should be looking to acquire one of these elite talents at the most important of positions. And talent is really the key word. Sometimes Sergei Bobrovsky comes out of nowhere to win the Vezina trophy, but given the small sample size of one year compared to a career, and the fact that there are tons of one-year-wonder goaltenders in NHL history, I’d still choose to take Carey Price right now over Bobrovsky, and last year’s stats be damned. That is because of talent. Pure and simple. The numbers might say something else, and I don’t mean to say I don’t believe in statistics, because I do, but there are other factors that must be considered. I think that the people looking at stats and saying “So what if we got Bernier, he isn’t any better than what we have,” are relying on statistics that are not comparable team to team in the same league, let alone what guys did in different minor leagues at different times. The bottom line is this: Bernier was an 11th overall draft pick. He is said by scouts to be extremely talented and to have franchise player potential, based on that talent. People say Reimer has a weak glove hand and poor rebound control. I have never heard anyone suggest he is or will be a franchise player. Therefore, even if Bernier doesn’t live up to his talent, it’s worth taking a shot that you luck out, hit the homerun, and get a goalie who makes you a contender every year.
So my response to people saying the Leafs didn’t need to upgrade their goaltending is this: if you don’t have a Carey Price or a Henrik Lundqvist on your roster, you need goaltending. Bernier is a potential franchise player, so it’s worth the shot.
2. The cost was too high and the Leafs have now allotted too much money, relative to the salary cap, to a position that didn’t need to be upgraded.
I disagree. Matt Frattin might become a forty goal scorer. But, most likely, he is a 15-20 goal scorer who will quite possibly have trouble making the Kings. The Leafs are deep at wing, and he certainly wasn’t going to get a chance to score 40 playing sporadically on the third line. I like Frattin and I hate to give him up, but guys who are fast and can score 15 goals on your third line are probably among easiest of all players to replace. One argument suggested that subtracting Frattin’s goals would not be compensated by the amount of goals Bernier would save beyond what Scrivens would have. To my way of looking at things, this is not a solid argument because it assumes the Leafs won’t replace Frattin. Whoever fills in for Frattin – let’s say Macarthur now keeps his job – is just as likely to give you 15 goals as Frattin was. Also, comparing Bernier to Scrivens is wrong, because Bernier is not going to be the backup. When I hear Nonis talk about the two current goalies competing for ice-time, I think he is being political. It would greatly surprise me if Reimer wasn’t dealt at the draft or before the season starts. Back up goalies are not hard to acquire trading Reimer after signing Bernier would put the Leafs back below the average cost of filling in the goaltending position. Without Reimer, Bernier and a cheap back up are still going to be making less than the already established elite level goalies.
As for the second rounder, the cap space and the back-up goalie, I say “who cares”? If you really want one, it is not that hard to get another second rounder and they rarely become impact players. The cap space is a negligible amount and the Leafs are well positioned there anyways. And back up goalies are nearly interchangeable except in rare circumstances.
Even in a worst case scenario: Frattin explodes and becomes a perennial 30 goal scorer, the Kings use the pick to select a star player and Scrivens someone becomes the best back-up goalie in NHL history – even in this scenario – I still like the acquisition of Bernier because you don’t get to roll the dice on getting a franchise player very often. At worst, the Leafs are out 2 players currently stuck playing behind superior talent and a lottery ticket. Not bad if Bernier becomes the star he possibly can be. And, even if Bernier ends up being a failure, they were never going to win the Cup with Frattin and Scrivens as centerpieces. With Bernier, they might.
3. Bernier has proved less than Reimer.
I find this to be the weakest argument. Yes, Reimer has shown that he is capable of potentially being a starting goalie in the NHL and that he can steal a game once in a while. But, at the same time, has he ever looked like a star? Does anyone realistically think he could be the next Brodeur? Not to say Bernier will be, but he certainly has the chance to be.
Look, I understand that the only empirical evidence we have is past performance and statistics, by which all three goalies involved in this trade are roughly similar. Still, if you are a GM, your job is to try to predict the future. It’s not accurate to acclaim Reimer and disparage Bernier for being a starter or not, because I guarantee you Reimer would never even have got the chance to start if Bernier was drafted by Toronto originally, or if he was the one playing behind Quick. It’s comparing things that have way too many variables to compare properly. So what if Bernier isn’t a starter, he might have been if he played for any of 20 other teams. Again, it comes back to talent and potential. I am yet to see a scouting report that proposes that Reimer is more talented than Bernier. The only criticism of Bernier I heard is that he is short. He supposedly is a great puck handler and has great rebound control: two main drawbacks to Reimer’s game. So, and I don’t expect people to agree with me, or to change their mind about what they already think, but based on the evidence I have at my disposal, I would put my money on perceived talent over statistics. You can make statistics say whatever you want, but if the people who get paid to give their opinions of hockey players (and on who’s opinions million dollar decisions are made) all say Bernier is more talented, then that is who I want.
Finally, I just want to address the idea that with Bernier – who has never started more than 25 games in a single season for an NHL team – you don’t know what you’re going to get. As if, with anyone outside of Henrik Lundqvist you do? As if with Reimer you do? It’s not like Reimer was amazing or anything. He played good, not great. He didn’t get nominated for any awards and he failed to make the second round of the Playoffs. So, I don’t really get all the love for the guy. He is, at best, average. People need to accept that goaltending might be the most unpredictable position in sports. Sometimes Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina and Bryzgalov forgets how to play. You can’t predict it. If, 5 years ago, you suggested that Craig Anderson might be the best goalie in the NHL you would have got roasted and told how stupid you were. So, really, who cares? Bernier is talented. Everything else is just luck. Taking a gamble on a guy who might one day be your franchise player is worth it, because, even if he falls on his face, you don’t win by being conservative.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that the Leafs made a trade with a low risk, high reward possibility. If Bernier lives up to his potential, then the Leafs will have made one of the best trades in franchise history. If Bernier lives up to his potential, it will go down as a steal on par with the Doug Gilmour and Dion Phaneuf trades. And if he doesn’t, well, they weren’t gonna win the Cup with what they had anyways.