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What should the Leafs pay Jonathan Bernier?

The Leafs' 1A goalie could cost the team some serious coin. The question is: is it worth it to keep him around for the rebuild?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs' 2014-15 season didn't "wind down" so much as it is came to a merciful end -- like a headless chicken that finally stopped running, this team was dead on its feet months ago. It only makes sense then, that Leaf management and fans alike are already looking towards resolving off-season issues.

At this point, most fans already have a strong stance on whether the Leafs should deal Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, or Joffrey Lupul, but surprisingly little attention has been paid to one of the Leafs' most important players: Jonathan Bernier.

Whether or not Bernier should be traded depends, of course, on the deal the Leafs' management can put together for him, but the recent returns in trades for goalies haven't exactly foretold of a seller's market this coming summer. Moreover, having a good goalie is probably the most important component of a competitive hockey team, so throwing one away for peanuts seems… well, nuts.

Regardless of whether the Leafs would be willing to trade Bernier, he'll be worth a lot more signed than as an RFA, so the most pertinent question facing the team then becomes "What should the Leafs pay him?"

The only real way to begin a conversation about a player's potential contract value is by finding comparable players, so to begin narrowing down the field, so let's take a look at goalies who have signed bridge contracts where they are RFAs for a second time (all stats from NHL Numbers):

GP SA Svs Sv% RFA Deal Cap Hit RFA Deal Term Year of deal EOD Status
Cory Schneider 10 196 221 0.887 $0.9M 2 Years 2010 RFA
Cory Schneider (RFA 2) 68 1880 1744 0.928 $4M 3 Years 2012 UFA
Tuukka Rask 50 1344 1250 0.931 $1.25M 2 Years 2010 RFA
Tuukka Rask (RFA 2) 86 2324 2160 0.929 $3.5M 1 Year 2012 RFA
Tuukka Rask (RFA 3) 195 5450 5032 0.923 $7M 8 Years 2014 UFA
Carey Price 134 4039 3684 0.912 $2.75M 2 Years 2010 RFA
Carey Price (RFA 2) 271 8100 7420 0.916 $6.5M 6 Years 2012 UFA
Braden Holtby 71 2106 1949 0.926 $1.85M 2 Years 2012 RFA
Braden Holtby (RFA 2) 178 5166 4756 0.921 ??? ??? 2015 ???
Jaroslav Halak 22 620 566 0.913 $0.775M 2 Years 2009 RFA
Jaroslav Halak (RFA 2) 101 3083 2832 0.919 $3.75M 4 Years 2010 UFA
Semyon Varlamov 59 1636 1500 0.917 $2.833M 3 Years 2011 RFA
Semyon Varlamov (RFA 2) 210 6220 5704 0.917 $5.9M 5 Years 2014 UFA
Sergei Bobrovsky 121 3380 3098 0.917 $5.625M 2 Years 2013 RFA
Sergei Bobrovsky (RFA 2) 226 6573 6035 0.918 $7.425M 4 Years 2015 UFA
Jonathan Quick 119 3189 2897 0.908 $1.8M 3 Years 2009 RFA
Jonathan Quick (RFA 2) 286 7572 6926 0.915 $5.8M 10 Years 2013 UFA

A few notes to add, here:

1) I have tried to look at other number one goalies that have signed relatively recently and who fall at least somewhat close to Bernier's .916 career Sv. %. There isn't a distinct cutoff here, because to be honest, it was difficult to get Hockey Reference to filter all the criteria I needed. If you can think of other examples who should be here, leave 'em in the comments.

2) Most goalies sign two deals where they have the status of an RFA. Some have chosen to sign longer-term second RFA deals, while others have opted for shorter bridge contracts. Tuukka Rask, for instance, insisted on a short, 1-year deal so that he could cash in bigger on his next contract.

3) "EOD Status" just means "End of Deal Status"

4) I have included Braden Holtby in this list because although he isn't a comparable for Bernier yet, he will be if he signs first. The reverse will of course also be true if Bernier signs first.

The main problem with this list is that it doesn't provide much insight into what kind of contract Bernier should get, because teams have such different philosophies surrounding how long they will commit to a goalie. By comparison, Jake Gardiner's latest contract was easy to predict.

With goalies, some GMs are happy to commit early, some prefer to wait, and the goalies themselves sometimes opt for strange options, as in the situation with Rask.

If there is one player in the mix whose contract Bernier is perhaps most likely to end up with, it's that of Semyon Varlomov. Bernier has 175 GP and a .916 Sv%, so the numbers line up reasonably well. Heck, maybe his "pedigree" is still a factor. All that said, do the Leafs really want to spend almost $6M on a goalie during a rebuild?

The most attractive option in the mix is Jaroslav Halak's 2009-10 contract for 4 years carrying a cap hit of $3.75M. Naturally, we have to use Draglikepull's cap inflator to see that the same deal would actually be $4.555M with this year's cap, and even then, Halak had only played just over 100 games in the NHL at that point.

If Bernier goes to arbitration, given his extra experience on Halak (roughly just over a full season's worth) isn't it possible that Bernier gets awarded a figure north of $5M?

As an added bonus, if you want to look for comparables, but are having trouble determining at which point a player became an RFA, here are the guidelines as laid out in the CBA:

10.1 Unrestricted Free Agents.

(a) Group 3 Players and Free Agents.

(i) Any Player who either has seven (7) Accrued Seasons or is 27 years of age or older as of June 30 of the end of a League Year, shall, if his most recent SPC has expired, with such expiry occurring either as of June 30 of such League Year or June 30 of any prior League Year, become an Unrestricted Free Agent. Such Player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with any Club, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign an SPC with such Player, without penalty or restriction, or being subject to any Right of First Refusal, Draft Choice Compensation or any other compensation or equalization obligation of any kind.

Now, the definition of "Accrued Seasons" is important, here:

"Accrued Season" means any League Year during which a Player was on a Club's Active Roster for 40 (30 if the Player is a goalie) or more Regular Season Games, provided that, for the purposes of calculating an Accrued Season under this Agreement, games missed due to a hockey-related injury incurred while on a Club's Active Roster shall count as games played for purposes of calculating an Accrued Season but only during the League Year in which the injury was incurred and a maximum of one additional season.

So is it really worth it?

If Bernier is going to command over $5M per year, and look for a deal in the 3-5 year range (similar to his two closest comparables, Varlamov and Halak), do the Leafs really want to keep him?

Cap space is itself a commodity (especially if the team can acquire picks/prospects for taking on bad deals), and the Leafs are already in tight against the cap. Dion Phaneuf and/or Phil Kessel may be moved this summer, but those aren't easy deals to pull off, and the Leafs may need some room to maneuver before either of those trades are made.

The Leafs are obviously a better team with Bernier than without him, and a big part of determining the goalie's future will hinge on their rebuild strategy. Are they going to "not not tank"?

In that case, they might as well spend less on James Reimer and move Bernier for whatever they can get. If they intend on remaining competitive, they'll be best served by keeping him, and trading James Reimer.

Ultimately, it's going to depend on the direction that Shanahan & Co. decide to take. What do you think?