The flurry of offseason trades and signings in the NHL appears to be cooling down a bit. As teams begin taking care of in-house contracts, most of the attention is now slowly being shifted to getting prepped for training camp and the fast-approaching preseason.
Now that things are calming, one can’t help but look back at the deals we saw in the past month. One of the biggest marquee movements that occurred this offseason was the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ trade for former Los Angeles Kings backup goalie Jonathan Bernier. Just a month later, the deal still has many scratching their heads.
To sum it up as bluntly as possible, the trade just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I mean, we all knew Bernier would get moved. A solid backup for the sure-fire starter of the American national team in Sochi, Jonathan Quick, Bernier’s name has bounced around the trade rumor mill for years now. It was only a matter of time before he was given a chance to start for a team in desperate need of help in net.
But … Toronto? Were the Leafs really that goalie-starved?
Last year, Toronto surprised many with their first playoff berth in years. One of the biggest reasons they made it this far was their starting netminder, James Reimer. His stats, a save percentage of .924 and a GAA of 2.46, weren’t the greatest, but they were enough to get the job done. Bottom line: Reimer was exactly what the Leafs needed last year. He certainly wasn’t a liability.
So why is he now being supplanted for a career backup in Bernier?
Sure, Bernier’s stats are solid, but they came in limited playing time. In six years, he’s never played more than 25 games in a season, with just 14 appearances last year. Meanwhile, Reimer started for a playoff team that was one awful third period away from knocking out the favored Boston Bruins this past postseason.
There’s always a chance Reimer wins the starting job, but then Toronto will receive heat for the fact that they dealt two NHL-level prospects in Ben Scrivens and Matt Frattin, along with a second-round draft pick, for a backup goalie. It’s not an earth-shattering package, but an awful lot if it’s just to make sure they have a reliable backup option.
And what happens to Reimer’s confidence now? Sure, he may enter camp with an “I’ll show you” attitude that may end up earning him the starting spot. But what if he doesn’t get it? Now you have a playoff goalie knocked to the bench for reasons unknown. That ought to make him feel good about himself. Shatter a goalie’s confidence and he may never recover.
Maybe Toronto just wanted to ensure goal tending was the least of their worries by giving themselves a great one-two punch platoon in net. It seemed to work for the Chicago Blackhawks with Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. But still, one of these players is the starter and one is the backup. Having a 1A and 1B goalie tandem is all good and well, until you get to the playoffs, where rotating your goalies is a last-ditch option. At the end of the day, one of these two would be playing in the more meaningful games.
Even worse, goalie was hardly a necessary position to focus on for the Leafs. They desperately need help on the blue line, but instead created a goalie controversy.
Who knows, maybe Toronto has a plan in all of this. Perhaps they know just how to handle Reimer’s move to the bench, or Bernier’s if Reimer still wins the job.
At the moment, though, this move remains the biggest question mark of the offseason. This will either be the Leafs “I told you so” moment, or a major issue coming next year.
We’ll find out the answer soon enough.