Leafs should avoid Bernier: 5 reasons

Jonathan Bernier, left, and James Reimer, right, will battle it out for starts for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season.

When Jonathan Bernier, the Los Angeles Kings’ well-regarded backup, announced his desire to be traded, rumours swirled that Toronto would be an appropriate landing spot. Here are five reasons why a Bernier-to-Leafs deal should not be struck.

1. They already have him.

More or less: Canadian goaltender chosen in the 2006 draft; will enter the 2012-13 season at 24 years of age; never played a playoff game; save percentage just on the friendly side of .900.

Take away the Mennonite background and last season’s rash of injuries — not a small deal, we know — and James Reimer is Jonathan Bernier. Neither is quite ready to carry a team into the postseason, but both have shown hints of brilliance that, with patience, health and some strong coaching, could get them to that proverbial next level.

Thing is, on paper, the Leafs goalie looks equal to or better than Bernier, who carries with him the perception of a potential star netminder being selected 11th overall (to Reimer’s 99th) and having won gold with Canada at the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships. (Bernier went 1-1 in the tournament, splitting post duties with Steve Mason.)

Sure, there are hockey minds out there that believe Bernier’s hybrid stand-up/butterfly style and quick reflexes make him a prime candidate to improve with experience, but who’s to say a healthy Reimer (or even the untested Ben Scrivens, for that matter) won’t appreciate at the same rate?

Reimer has played 71 games to Bernier’s 48, has actually won more games than he’s lost (34-24-9 to Bernier’s 20-17-5), and has posted comparable stats — despite playing behind an appreciably worse defence. Reimer has six shutouts, Bernier five. Bernier has a .910 save percentage, Reimer’s is .914.

2. Bernier wants to be a starter now, but might not deserve it.

Bernier told TVA that he wants to be a starter in this league, but his impatience could be his undoing. Yes, it was only one interview, but Bernier and his Stanley Cup ring could have chosen to play things cool. There are worse jobs than getting paid millions to platoon in for a quarter of a season in a gorgeous city on a young, excitable winning team, allowing your skills to improve under limited scrutiny behind the second-best defence in the entire NHL.

Even a team that might be considering a trade for Bernier — the Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks are among those looking for a starter — could be put off by his seeming unwillingness to ride the bench for a while. “If this guy’s discontent playing for a champion, how is he going to handle goalie life here?” prospective GMs might be thinking.

Barring injury, leapfrogging Quick in the Kings’ depth chart isn’t going to happen for 10 years. Fine. But is Bernier going to be a distraction elsewhere if he doesn’t get the minutes he wants as soon as he wants? Two goalies sharing the spotlight and ice time works (see: Elliott and Halak, 2012 St. Louis Blues) only if the players buy in. Has Bernier made it clear that he only wants to be in a situation where he’s The Man?

3. The Kings aren’t desperate enough.

Unlike the Roberto Luongo situation — which could get ugly if Canucks GM Mike Gillis can’t find decent market value for his former No. 1 guy — the Kings should feel little pressure to slap together a deal for Bernier just because he went back to Quebec after the parade and told a reporter he has no desire to be a backup, even if he’s a backup on a championship team. Bernier wanted to be dealt at the 2012 deadline and the Kings wisely held off, waiting until they locked up Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick long-term, which they did this summer.

Just because Bernier said he expects to be swapped this off-season doesn’t mean it will happen.

Why wouldn’t the Kings wait until the 2013 deadline to deal Bernier, set to be a restricted free agent next summer when his two-year, $2.5-million deal expires? That’s when they’ll likely get the best deal for him; as Burke is fond of saying, GMs make some of their worst decisions at the wire. The Kings are no stranger to taking advantage of the panic, having grabbed Jeff Carter from Columbus midseason.

Plus, if the Kings start the 2012-13 season without Bernier, who will back up Quick? Bernier is a decent, if unspectacular, bench goalie at a fair rate. With a decade-long commitment to Quick, the Kings can take their time finding a decent, cheap veteran goalie on the downswing of his career to give Quick a breather while they mould their next youngster.

L.A. needs to be patient with this trade, and barring a horrendous performance by Bernier in an early-season support role that tarnishes his value, time is in their favour.

4. He’s not as good as you might hope.

In the last two seasons, the only years in which Bernier has played significant minutes, he has benefitted from playing behind one of the NHL’s best defences.

So as ho-hum as his career 2.50 goals-against average looks on paper, consider that that figure has been boosted by playing for a team that ranked third overall in shots allowed (27.9) in 2010-11 and fourth (27.4) in 2011-12. The Leafs, on the other hand, ranked 19th in the category in 2010-11 (31.0) and 24th in 2011-12 (30.8). Bernier faces three or four more shots each time he starts, and it stands to reason that his numbers fall on the sad side of Reimer’s.

If the Leafs were to add another work-in-progress goaltender to their fleet, and failed to make the 2013 playoffs partly because of it, the fans are libel to… well, they’d still show up, but they wouldn’t be happy about it.

5. It would take away from Option A.

Of course, just because some unconfirmed sources have whispered that the Leafs have inquired about Bernier doesn’t mean a trade is imminent. Burke has gone on record as saying that he’s more interested in a proven netminder (read: Luongo), and the idea of the Leafs kicking the tires on Bernier (earlier this month, the Toronto Sun threw out forward Matt Frattin’s name as potential trade bait) could be a matter of exploring all options or a little gamesmanship in the Original Six club’s bid to get Luongo in a trade that Burke hopes looks as lopsided as the New York Rangers’ steal of Rick Nash from Columbus.

Luongo might not be interested in Toronto. It makes sense that he would prefer a return to Florida, where he has familiar ties, but as USA Today reported this week, the Panthers’ reluctance to give away 20-year-old prospect centre Nick Bjugstad could stymie that deal.

Still, as long as one of the top eight proven goaltenders in the league is available, that’s who the Leafs need to be targeting. Yes, Luongo is expensive and, yes, he lost the biggest game of his life. But the acquisition of Luongo would likely get Toronto into the playoffs. And, for both Burke’s job security and the sanity of the city’s sports fans, that needs to be priority No. 1.

Of the following goaltending options, which would be the wisest move for the Toronto Maple Leafs to begin 2012-13?

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