When Leafs fans like myself heard we were getting a great, young goalie in Jonathan Bernier, we were excited. Here we were getting a bonafide starting goalie for the future. He’d been backing up Jonathan Quick, arguably the best goaltender in the NHL at the time and was putting up great numbers. Needless to say, having a legitimate #1 starter for the first time since arguably Ed Belfour was huge for everyone.
And now we’re three years in and I’m already moving on.
This isn’t just coming off last night’s 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers where Bernier let in a soft goal from the red line and the game winning goal off the juiciest rebound from a slow, nothing shot. This is after a full season of god awful hockey coming off his actually pretty good initial season and now an 8-game start to the season that is making him look like he doesn’t even belong in the AHL, let alone the big leagues.
For whatever reason, Bernier’s completely fallen off the map. The stats don’t make it seem as obvious, but in his three seasons so far his goals against average has gone from 2.70, to 2.87, to 3.17 and his save percentage has gone from .920, to .912, to .895! You know how many goalies have a better percentage than him this season? 54! And only 12 others are behind him. Not to mention, he’s the only goalie who’s played more than 3 games and is winless this season. He’s the only starting goaltender without a win still! The next arguable starting goaltender on the list is Jonas Hiller who even having the god awful season he’s having, has 2 wins in 6 starts, following by 3-win starters like Michal Neuvirth, Frederik Andersen, Cam Talbot, Jimmy Howard, Steve Mason and Seymon Varlamov. Even Sergei Bobrovsky on this terrible starting Columbus team has 6 wins!
Now you can try to argue it’s because the Leafs aren’t scoring and in a sense that’s true. But we’ve seen time and time again Bernier letting in the first shot of the game or just horribly soft goals. When you are a team working as hard (regardless that they’re outmatched) like the Toronto Maple Leafs, a soft goal or a goal of the first freaking shot will kill any and all momentum the team has. No wonder they’re having trouble scoring, they’re all positive it’ll mean nothing in the end, Bernier’ll just cough up the lead.
So what gets done with Jonathan Bernier. For starters (pun intended), you need to bench him and have James Reimer as the #1. After their 3-game winning streak, the starting job should be Reimer’s to lose now, not Bernier’s just because we’re paying him $4.15M a year until the end of next season. If it’s at all possible, I’d be thinking about finding a deal to ship him out, even if it’s for a big money contract, as long as it’s for this one season. At this point, unless we can somehow sign a GREAT free agent goalie, our next directive should be drafting one.
Now as far as I’m aware of, there aren’t seemingly any future superstar goalies coming up in the draft, but that’s still something to look into, especially over the next 3 years. If a decent goalie is coming up in the draft, take it, even if he’s projected 10-20 spots lower. We can’t afford to miss one. Now Garret Sparks or Antoine Bibeau might turn out to be pretty good, but that’s a few years from now, the Leafs organization should be taking the initiative and drafting a couple more young goalies. You never know, there might be a great prospect piece to shop around if the Leafs are in a playoff race a few years down the line.
I don’t like jumping off the bandwagon of someone, but Bernier is one of those cases where he’s leaving me almost no choice. He’s letting in Toskala goals almost every month (and Toskala only had that one goal from the blue line!) and in a season where everyone on the roster in working hard and showing signs of improvement under Mike Babcock, Bernier is not. He’s floundering and as much as I’d hate to say it, we need to cut bait on him, hopefully by the end of this season.
I’m a little sick of this non-existent goaltending controversy we’ve had the last 3 years.