Toronto Maple Leafs: Time for Jonathan Bernier to Gamble on Himself


Toronto Maple Leafs: Time for Jonathan Bernier to Gamble on Himself

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It’s fair to say this past season didn’t go quite as planned for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender, Jonathan Bernier. In fact, that’s something of an understatement, considering he was the number one guy on a team that finished with the fourth-worst record in the NHL.

Bernier entered the 2014-15 campaign, with high hopes of putting himself in a strong position to negotiate a new contract. However, this position has been somewhat compromised, after finishing the season with a 21-28-7 record in 54 appearances.

The 26-year old saw his save percentage drop to .912, from .923 last season. On top of this, his goals against average increased from 2.68 to 2.87.

Of course, it wasn’t all his fault, given the poor performance of the Leafs in general. Regardless, Bernier now finds himself at a crossroads.

The 2006 11th overall NHL draft pick will become a restricted free agent after the Stanley Cup final. In most cases, a young number one goaltender would be poised to receive an enticing offer from his current team.

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However, it may not be quite so straight-forward in the case of Bernier. (Although, why would it ever be any different when it comes to anything to do with the Leafs?)

Whether it’s fair or not, he will likely not receive the big money, long-term contract he’s looking for. (For the record, Bernier counted for $2.9 million against the salary cap during these past two seasons in Toronto.)

So, what should Bernier do? Well, Elliot Friedman of has an interesting solution, although it would represent taking a gamble.

Friedman believes the Laval, Quebec native should accept a short-term offer from the Leafs. The thought process is to rebuild his value/reputation and, in essence, bet on himself.

As Friedman said on 590 The Fan: “I would aim to have a great year and make them pay me because I don’t think the team (at this time) is willing to go long term at a big number. If I was Bernier, I would take a chance and go short term.”

Dec 14, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer (34) and goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) skate off the ice after a win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Los Angeles 4-3 in an overtime shot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Friedman expressed some sympathy for the former Los Angeles King, while also noting he didn’t help himself: “He had a rough year. The team wasn’t good in front of him and that was part of it, but there weren’t too many games where you said (he) stole them.”

At this point, the Leafs are in no hurry to make a decision on Bernier. Finding a new head coach and general manager remain their biggest priorities right now.

Rest assure though, they will eventually get around to at least making a qualifying offer. However, what happens if Brendan Shanahan and company decide, for example, to offer a deal for two or three years?

Well, if Friedman is right (and he’s certainly a respected authority in the hockey world), any long-term contract offer will theoretically not be for big money. If that’s the case, an important decision will have to be made.

Personally, I agree that Bernier should take a gamble, and go short-term. (Admittedly, this is in line with one of my own philosophies on life, but that’s another story.) Yes, the Leafs will likely struggle again next season, but what’s the worst that can happen?

If Bernier bombs again, he’s still going to get offered another deal – albeit for less money again – whether it’s from the Leafs or someone else. At the end of the day, the 2011-12 Stanley Cup winner has talent worthy of a number one goaltender, and will always draw interest.

Of course, all the talent in the world means nothing, if you don’t come close to fulfilling your potential. Suffice it to say, it will be interesting to see what road Bernier’s professional future proceeds down, moving forward.

Next: Mike Babcock sets deadline for his decision