On whether I’m an apologist or thinking rationally about the Bernier trade

On whether I’m an apologist or thinking rationally about the Bernier trade

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So today, a trade happened.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into a breakdown of the trade – mostly because I think this is a topic on its own and you can find what you need elsewhere. Instead, I’m going to focus on the mindset of Leafs management, what this means for James Reimer, as well as the potential Jonathan Bernier carries. I left a semi-large post of my thoughts on the trade in the comment section, but I’m going to expand on it here.

The initial thoughts:

One prevailing thought I have is that much of the agony and anger on social media has been indirectly linked to the fans’ personal feelings about Reimer. In Reimer, we have an outstanding human being who we can all get behind and want to watch succeed. In Reimer, we have a person who displays an unwavering belief in his abilities. In Reimer, we have someone who deflects accolades to his teammates while unhesitatingly accepting criticism for faults that aren’t always his own. In all honesty, many of us want to see Reimer succeed because in him, there’s a tiny glimmer of hope that a nice guy can win in the cutthroat world of sports.

It’s actually remarkable that anyone can be so consistent with his modesty that we tend to forget how Reimer is a fierce competitor – you can tell he hates being beaten whenever a puck squeaks by him.

And this is why the trade is so confusing. The Leafs have a number one goaltender whose many virtues I have repeatedly extolled of in the past. Reimer isn’t perfect, but as a 25 year old, he has many years left to improve on his weaknesses and hone his strengths.

So why trade for someone who has more potential than Ben Scrivens does? Is there something about Reimer that we’re not seeing?

The exploration:

Anthony Petrielli wrote up a nice piece on some of the reasons why Leafs management would want to improve the situation in net. A part of me has to agree with Petrielli that Reimer has had a weird injury history. In fact, Reimer has had several concussions in the past prior to being hit in the head by Brian Gionta in October 2011. So even if the Leafs aren’t questioning Reimer’s abilities and potential, they do need to consider the worrying details of Reimer’s injury history. Which leads to the question of whether Scrivens is capable of being a starting goaltender or has the potential to be one – if the answer is no, then most certainly an upgrade would be necessary.

The question above was clearly the influential reason why Leafs management went hard after Bernier. The question was no longer about whether Scrivens could win games if Reimer went down, but steal games. In Bernier’s case, the talent is clearly there to not only win games, but steal wins the Leafs didn’t deserve.

Here’s a scouting report from Bernier’s draft year in 2006:

“A very strong skater with excellent balance… has both quick reactions and recovery…has very quick feet and pads with excellent, controlled lateral movements… very good post-to-post… does a good job of blocking a pass from behind the net… very good angles and net coverage… challenges at the top of the crease and square to the shooter… good rebound control deflecting shots out of danger with his stick and blocker… uses paddle down technique on wrap around attempts… goes behind the net well to stop the puck on dump ins and is smart at moving it… communicates well with his defense… does a very good job of reading and reacting to the play… has an excellent well balanced butterfly stance… shows excellent determination… very solid and strong in the crease… battles hard for any loose pucks and holds his ground when players cut hard to the net… very quick recovery to get set for a rebound opportunity… very aggressive and competes hard… very confident and doesn’t get rattled… capable of making big saves to keep his team in the game or to hold a lead.”

One thing that stands out to me is that Bernier is a very capable puck-handler. For a team whose defense lacks polish, experience, and speed, having a strong puck-handler in net helps limit some of the possession downtime by making good forward passes or clearing the puck off the walls. By being a strong puck-handler, a goaltender can defuse the forecheck very easily.

Another area I felt was important is that Bernier is ‘capable of making big saves to keep his team in the game…’, which is an area many might say the Leafs have lacked in net. I went back into Bernier’s most recent scouting report from the Forecaster which makes explicit that stealing a game is right up Bernier’s alley:

“His reflexes are first-rate and cat-like… plays with supreme confidence when tending goal… can steal a game all on his own… capable of shaking off bad goals.”

I think it’s important to note that in Reimer’s 100+ games played, it wasn’t until this year that he started ‘stealing’ games on his own. From Reimer’s first round performance against Boston, he stole Games 5 and 6, as well as a huge win against New Jersey back in March when the Leafs were looking to press forward for a playoff spot. Having two goaltenders capable of stealing games on their own is clearly a strength; to say it would weaken by proxy of a distraction is a media fueled narrative designed to create an unnecessary distraction.

There are many in the media who love the trade and to name two just for posterity with an article:

Lebrun tweet (and alternating article):

Lebrun’s article on Bernier being the real deal.

Proteau tweet (and alternating article):

Proteau’s article on not rushing to judgement.

The future and the fantasy:

I think the biggest question is whether Reimer will feel less than pleased about this trade. As a competitor and athlete, it must hurt that his management doesn’t have a lot of faith in his ability to stay healthy. On the other hand, Reimer has done nothing to show that he’s less than the perfect teammate. To this end, I don’t think there will be a problem on Reimer’s end to work with the games he gets. He’s clearly the starter at this point and don’t let the media tell you any differently until we hear it from Leafs’ management.

On the other hand, I did wonder about Bernier’s thoughts about having to compete with Reimer for playing team. There have been several reports that suggested that Bernier wanted to be a starter immediately, but as it turns out, he just wants a chance. Playing second fiddle to Jonathan Quick and his 10-year contract would suggest that the Kings and Bernier had made a decision to mutually move on.

In addition, both Reimer and Bernier have played together in the past back in 2011 during the World Championship. Nonis noted this very detail in his press conference today when he said that ‘… they seemed to get along well.” For me, this detail is very important as it shows an existing positive relationship.

Furthermore, I like the concept of having one area of need completely vanquished with a simple need for need trade. I think the Leafs plan to ‘slow boil’ the development of Reimer and Bernier simultaneously while making grander moves to improve the team in front of them. Rather than sticking to the plan of developing mid-tier professionals like Scrivens and Frattin, the Leafs are clearing beginning to make moves for the future as they will once again get younger and more skilled. The trade makes implicit that the Leafs are opening another door for someone like D’Amigo, Ashton, or even Ross to make the team on the wing. The wing is a position of strength the Leafs have to dip into and that hasn’t changed with this trade.

Lastly, this trade allows the Leafs to take time on making a decision on who to run with in net. If it’s Bernier, they can sell high on Reimer. If it’s Reimer, they can sell high on Bernier. While the goaltending market is flooded with buyers, there isn’t a lot of upside available either. The Leafs now have two goaltenders under 25 with many years to work with. Rather than crippling their resources, they’ve allocated them elsewhere into a position of strength.

In other words, the Leafs hedged their bets on a high upside risk for the short-term reduction of familiarity.

Conclusion:

Overall, the trade as a whole smells from a distance and perhaps it was a move the Leafs didn’t need to make. There’s also the question of whether Tim Leiweke had a hand in forcing Nonis to make this trade. However, the deeper we go, the more sense it makes when we’re thinking about the concept of winning games rather than keeping the team in it. Goals may win games, but goaltending can steal games we don’t deserve to win.