The Toronto Maple Leafs and Jonathan Bernier have settled on a contract before the arbitrator’s ruling, inking a two-year pact worth $8.3 million total.
The $4.15 million average annual figure ranks Jonathan Bernier 24th among NHL goalies and places him in the same salary range as Ondrej Pavelec, Steve Mason and Devan Dubnyk.
The Maple Leafs now have around $8.5 million in cap space with no RFAs remaining and thirteen forwards, eight defencemen and two goaltenders on the roster. Even if the Leafs choose not to use any of the remaining space on more UFAs, that kind of ample cushion is an asset in and of itself as the Leafs enter the new season. A team that’s both cash- and cap space- rich (the Leafs haven’t had much of the latter in a long time) is in a prime position to take a cap problem off of some other team’s hands along with some assets as the sweetener, or add a piece outright in a hockey trade. The cap flexibility opens all kinds of avenues for improvement.
The Leafs have bought one UFA year with this contract at a good price (Elliot laid out his arbitration case with a convincing argument for $4.6 million), while at the same time keeping their options open with a shorter term. With just two seasons of starter’s work to his name, one great (55GP, .923SV%, league average was .914) and one sub-average (58GP, .912SV%, league average was .915), the Leafs are still looking for more proof that Bernier’s their guy going forward.
There was risk in allowing the arbitrator to decide this case because it was guaranteed to be a one-year deal. Bernier posting a 2013-14-esque season and the Leafs having to pay the piper on a Braden Holtby-like deal at the end of the 2015-16 season wouldn’t be an actual problem (it would mean they’ve got their solution in net), but they would’ve had to pay him sooner and lost out on the cap savings. The bigger issue is that they would’ve surrendered control, so Bernier technically could have had a great season, choose to test UFA in order to max out his next contract on the open market, and the Leafs wouldn’t be able to stop him. This contract keeps Bernier under the Leafs’ control for one more season; a one-year deal would’ve meant the Leafs had no NHL goalies signed beyond the end of the 2015-16 season.
Bernier will start the year as the incumbent first-string goalie, while backup James Reimer is a UFA at season’s end. Statistically, the gap might not be as big as you’d think: Reimer, 27.14 years old, has started 159 career games with a career .913 save percentage. Bernier, 26.4 years old, has started 158 career games with a career .916 save percentage. That the Leafs signed two years instead of the one with Bernier would make Reimer being here beyond this season all the more unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
While there is the unknown factor of just how bad the team in front of him might be, Bernier appears to have a solid chance at cementing his place as the Leafs starter going forward if we look at the numbers.
Over the past two seasons (since he became the Leafs starter), filtering out goalies that are below 60 games started, Jonathan Bernier stands tied for 13th in the league in combined save percentage at .918. That’s on par with Marc Andre Fleury, and ahead of Pekka Rinne, Jaroslav Halak, and Jonathan Quick. The hesitance in the term on the Leafs’ part comes in the fact that Bernier hasn’t established the same body of work and pattern of reliability as those other goalies, but the hope for both parties is that Bernier will have done just that by the time this contract expires in 2017.
Jonathan Bernier quotes
“I was happy we were able to get a deal done… Now I can focus on training camp and get ready for the season. I’m extremely excited for training camp with Mike and my new goalie coach. It should be a fun year.
I want to be part of the Maple Leafs and this rebuild.
We need to turn the page. I think the guys are excited to come back and guys are motivated with the new coaching staff”
Lou Lamoriello quotes
“It was good to hear what both parties had to say as far as Jonathan and where the team was at. We were able to come up with a fair situation for both Jonathan and the team. He is a National Hockey League goalie. He doesn’t have to prove anything.
He has the ability, there’s no question… It’s getting everybody (the whole team) going.
Lamoriello on heading into the year with a Bernier/Reimer goaltending tandem
“I feel very comfortable” “