Where does Jonathan Bernier go from here?
All that supposed confidence gained from those back-to-back-to-back shutouts in the American Hockey League feels so remote now.
The Toronto Maple Leafs should-be No. 1 has allowed 10 goals in his last two pro hockey games, both overtime losses. He is 0-8-2 with an .881 save percentage in the NHL this year. In his last 20 NHL starts, he’s mustered one victory.
So when the injured James Reimer returns to the Leafs, will coach Mike Babcock make the better-paid Bernier the backup in hopes that he eventually works through this muck? Do they slip him through waivers like other underwhelming goaltenders this season (see: Karri Ramo, Anton Khudobin) to further his “conditioning?”
Or does Lou Lamoriello try his best to deal him?
Gord Stellick thinks the latter might be a possibility.
“I think something’s on about moving him somewhere. There’s some teams that are interested,” the Sportsnet analyst and former Leafs GM told Dean Blundell & Co. Wednesday morning on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported last month, prior to the Marlies conditioning stint, that two rival clubs held internal discussions about trying to strike a trade for Bernier.
On Tuesday, Calgary Flames honchos, president Brian Burke and general manager Brad Treliving took in the Leafs-Lightning game at Air Canada Centre.
— Nick Kypreos (@RealKyper) December 15, 2015
“Brian Burke is in Toronto quite a bit. He spends 10 days a month here as part of his deal being president of the Calgary Flames because he’s still got family here,” Stellick told Blundell. “Brad Treliving here is not the norm.”
The Flames have catapulted into the thick of the Pacific Division’s playoff race thanks to a recent six-game winning streak, and could suddenly be buyers. The rebuilding Leafs are sellers. Burke and Treliving could be scouting any number of players.
Watching Bernier’s poor rebound control, shaky positioning and deflated body language… well, the guy is hardly upping his own trade value these days.
He’s been shamed with a Bronx cheer in his two most recent ACC appearances.
Still, the Flames’ net is arguably worse off than Toronto’s. Calgary’s 3.43 goals allowed per game is the worst in the NHL.
Like Bernier, Ramo ($3.8 million) and Jonas Hiller ($4.5 million) aren’t earning their salaries. But they both come off the books this summer. Calgary will need an experienced goalie next season, and Bernier is signed through 2016-17 — at a $4.125-million cap hit.
Perhaps an exchange of clunky contracts that sends Hiller, 33, to Toronto could rejuvenate the netminders with fresh starts while allowing prospects such as Joni Ortio and Garret Sparks to keep developing in the minors. The way Bernier is playing, however, Toronto might need to toss in another piece.
“[Bernier] could be a version of Devan Dubnyk,” mused Stellick, “and get confidence somewhere else.”
The Leafs will turn back to Sparks for Thursday’s game against San Jose.
“I just think that the puck’s going in, so Sparks will start,” Babcock told reporters Wednesday. “I thought we had a real good plan in sending him down.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t go the way he wanted when he arrived back.”