In the 165th day of his tenure, Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis moved boldly to address the key position on his hockey club.
In acquiring 24-year-old Jonathan Bernier, Nonis moved a player with 30-goal potential in Matt Frattin, backup Ben Scrivens and a second-round draft choice for the player he hopes will be the club’s number goalie for the next decade.
Nonis, of course, wouldn’t and shouldn’t say that.
Bernier is, he said, destined to be locked in a battle with 25-year-old incumbent James Reimer for the number one job.
“Nothing is guaranteed to anyone,” Nonis said. “We feel we’re deeper in goal. Both players have great potential and they will have the opportunity to develop that potential.”
There is no question Bernier is delighted.
“Im very happy, obviously,” he told NHL.com. “Toronto has always been a great market, especially with the good young team they have now. It feels kind of like L.A. when I first got there in that we all grew up together. Hopefully I can fit in right away.”
It’s a fascinating move.
First, Nonis has long said his real aim was an experienced goalie who could tutor or supplement Reimer.
But Nonis and his LA counterpart Dean Lombardi worked all season on the deal. Bernier was always in Nonis’ sights.
The pending free agent market will be choked with older goalies willing to play 20-30 games while tutoring a young starter. Nikolai Khabibulin (40), Evgeni Nabokov (37), Niklas Backstrom (35) or 34-year-old Jose Theodore would likely have come with a comparable or better price tag than Bernier who is a restricted free agent.
It’s true that if James Reimer is in Vezina conversation in January no one would be more delighted than Nonis.
And it’s also true that should that happen the competition from Bernier would have been a major contributor. But incentive could likely have been acquired a bit more cheaply.
A bid for Phoenix starter Mike Smith, a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2012 would have been chancy but had Nonis landed Smith, of course, the Leafs would still have Frattin.
Reimer is two inches taller than the six-foot Bernier. He has been in the league three years, one less than Bernier and has played far more games (104 to 62). The two have a near idential career save percentage .912 for Bernier and .915 for Reimer.
The betting is the Leafs see Reimer as a prospect who last year made himself a good NHL goalie.
Bernier, however, could be great. The 11th overall pick in 2006, Bernier has a bettter pedigree than Reimer, a fourth-rounder in the same draft. That Bernier could not beat out Jonathan Quick for the Kings crease is disgrace since Quick is one of the top three goalies in the NHL.
And the few times Bernier was given the net, albeit with a Stanley Cup contender, Bernier did not disappoint. He was 9-3-1 with a 1.88 goals against and an excellent percentage of .922 this season. That’s pretty fancy shooting.
The Leafs have, in fact gotten younger in goal. Scrivens, headed to Los Angeles to keep the bench warm for Quick, is 26.
This is a move for the long term and there is likely more coming.
“Between now an July 5 (the opening for free agency) you will probably see a couple of more moves from us,” Nonis said.
That’s a fascinating proposition.