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Top 25 Under 25 - #5 Jonathan Bernier

The Leafs newest starting goalie simultaneously debuts on and graduates from the Top 25 in the 5th spot.

Stephen Dunn
This is the post that I've been dreading writing since we began this list.

Jonathan Bernier, through a quirk of the dates, was 24 years old when we began the process, and was 25 years old by the time we started running through the list (We used June 30 as our cutoff date; anyone born after June 30, 1988 was eligible. Bernier is born August 7, 1988).

Thanks to his offseason trade from Los Angeles, we've heard quite a bit about what Bernier can do, what he's done in the past, and what we might expect from him. Since he's already turned 25 and won't return to our list next year, there's not a lot of point discussing what we'd need to see him do in order to move him up on our list.

It's also fairly obvious how he landed this high; he's one of four under-25 players that's already in the NHL in a meaningful role, and he also fell behind the Leafs one true blue-chip prospect.

With all of that said, I'm going to use this space to outline my reasons for an opinion I've held all summer.

I hated the Bernier trade.

My primary discomfort with the trade is simply that I don't believe it addresses a "need". Going into the offseason, armed with enough cap space to make sweeping changes, the Leafs had clear needs down the middle (especially if UFA Tyler Bozak walked) and on defence. They somewhat addressed the centre need with a Dave Bolland trade (which I liked for its low risk, high reward philosophy). But then, as I discussed when Colton Orr was re-signed, the trade seems to signal that the Leafs priorities don't seem to sync up with what the team needs in order to improve.

Maybe Bernier can be a good foil for James Reimer and provide the Leafs with a young tandem that can establish consistency in the Leafs net. But exactly how good are we expecting Bernier to be to alleviate Toronto's problems with reducing shots?

From a cost perspective, the Leafs didn't give up much, although considering how thin the Leafs depth chart is up front, having Matt Frattin to be the 9th or 10th forward is certainly preferable to it being Jay McClement or Colton Orr, or some random Marlie. But when you consider that the Leafs retained $500k of salary for Frattin and Ben Scrivens, and now consider the cap situation they find themselves in trying to re-sign RFAs Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson, it's bizarre that the Leafs, already stuck with a $2m cap penalty thanks to the Colby Armstrong and Darcy Tucker buyouts, would add more dead cap space when the cap's already down 10% from last year.

The biggest issue I have with the deal is Bernier's contract. Jonathan Bernier wanted out of LA (reasonably) because he wanted an opportunity to be a starter, and he wasn't going to get that behind Quick. The Leafs, though, already possess another talented young goaltender in James Reimer, who despite being the same age as Bernier, has already surpassed Bernier's credentials as a potential #1. Bernier's case to be a #1 goalie relies on Bernier's pedigree as a former 11th overall pick, and by extension, the wisdom of hockey professionals who have an inherent bias to be eventually proven right in this sort of instance. James Reimer has just gone out there and won hockey games and put up good numbers.

So it's a little jarring to see Bernier be given a 2 year contract at $2.9 million, on the back of 62 career games, and then see the Leafs (and by extension, the Leafs media wings) do a little dance back and forth about whether Bernier is or isn't the starter. I can't help but see similarities between how the Leafs have handled Bernier's extension upon trading for him, and how the Leafs handled Vesa Toskala (at least they didn't give Bernier term); maybe it's going to work, but it seems like an unnecessary risk to cast aside the guy that got you where you are today (Reimer) in favour of somebody that, what? Is maybe as good as that guy? And it's not like James Reimer played like Andrew Raycroft last season; he all but dragged the Maple Leafs to within 50 seconds of overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs.

Then again,

Dreger "I believe James Reimer is a #1 goalie but the Leafs' collapse in Game 7 could have been avoiding if Reimer made some big saves"
8:50 a.m. Tue, Sep 3

Yesterday, Chemmy mentioned that James Reimer's new nickname should be 'Rodney Dangerfield'. And it's entirely true; the Leafs organization doesn't seem to give his ability any respect. Reimer's a pending RFA. Maybe this works out in sort of a dynamic duo situation (typically a short-term solution at best, and Carlyle talking about a 'win and you're in' approach doesn't leave me brimming with confidence). Otherwise, the most likely options appear to be that Bernier is one of the most highly paid backups in the league, or he's one of the lowest paid starters (a job he may or may not be qualified for) and James Reimer is probably looking for a new team within a year.

clrkaitken birky SteveBurtch Chemmy SkinnyFish BowerPower JP Nikota PPP 67Sound Rank
5 5 4 5 5 5 4 4 5 5


We usually see our list divided up into tiers, but rarely have we seen it happen so neatly. The top three on this year's list were the top three, and garnered split all 27 possible Top 3 votes between them. The next prospect (revealed tomorrow) and Bernier would similarly split all 18 possible 4th and 5th place votes between them. So the Top 5 was unanimous among our panel, with just the ordering different.

Bernier grabbed 4th place votes from 3 panelists and 5th place from the rest, leaving him in 5th.

I'm a big fan of James Reimer, but I can't help admitting that Bernier may yet be important to any potential Leafs success next season
JP Nikota

Potential #1G, but goalies are voodoo so the odds on it happening are low enough I drop him to #5.
67 Sound
Bernier's total of 237 points was a solid 23 points clear of Joe Colborne, and represents the clear dividing line between our first tier of top prospects, and the second tier of 'everybody else'. By virtuer of picking up more 5th place votes than 4th, Bernier also finished 3 points behind the 4th ranked prospect on our list.