Earlier this week, it was reported that the Calgary Flames could potentially be interested in trading for Toronto Maple Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier. There is plenty of smoke here, and unlike some other rumors, this one actually makes a ton of sense for the Flames.
At the most rudimentary level, it’s as simple as Calgary needing a goalie and the Maple Leafs having one that they’d like to get rid of. The duo of Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller have left much to be desired — no team in the NHL has given up more goals this season than Calgary’s 111. Both of these goalies will be unrestricted free agents this summer, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where GM Brad Treliving rolls into 2016-17 with one of these two as his starter.
The Flames had high expectations this season, but have faltered mightily due to an occasionally leaky defense and shoddy goaltending. Calgary will have at least one new netminder in place next season, so why not roll the dice on an option like Bernier? Someone is going to be given the chance to seize the No. 1 job for the Flames, and there’s plenty of time left this year for Bernier to establish a firm hold on the gig.
As bad as he’s been in Toronto, it’s not like he could be much worse than what the Flames are already working with. Ramo and Hiller lack Bernier’s pedigree and ceiling though, which is why he should be such an interesting option for Treliving. He’s only 27 years old and we know that goalies develop at different rates than forwards or defensemen. While we look at a 27-year-old forward and expect his number to slowly start declining, we can’t apply that same logic to netminders.
The league’s most elite goalies are pushing 30 or have already surpassed that plateau. Carey Price is 28. So is Tuukka Rask. Jonathan Quick is 29 and a handful of the NHL’s top goalies are older than 30 (Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne). There’s no reason to believe that Bernier has played his best hockey yet, and Calgary has a lot to gain by giving him an opportunity to get rolling this year.
Two seasons ago, Bernier had the 10th best save percentage in the league and was earmarked as a potential high-end starter. His percentages dipped last year on a bad Maple Leafs team, and he didn’t win his first game of the season until this past week. Talk about a buy-low opportunity. Reports indicate that Toronto simply wants to ditch his contract, which goes through 2016-17 and carries a $4.15 million cap hit.
It might be tough to convince most teams in the NHL to eat that term and hit, but the Flames are paying a combined $8.3 million on their goalies this season. Swapping out on bad contract for another might not make sense out right, but Calgary could afford to see what it has in Bernier over the next season-plus. Treliving would need to send some salary back to Toronto — the Flames only have $2.195 million in space — but there are numerous options that could play out.
It could be as simple as moving Hiller or Ramo to Toronto, giving the Maple Leafs a bad expiring contract in return for Bernier and the one year left on his deal. What’s more, this option wouldn’t block any up-and-coming netminders from getting a crack at the starting job during training camp next summer. The Flames have compiled a group of strong goalie prospects, but the organization can’t count on Jon Gillies or Joni Ortio as starters for next year.
Worse case scenario would see one of those options erupt onto the scene, relegating Bernier to backup duty for one season. That’s a lot of money to spend on a No. 2, but it’s still better than the situation they are in now. Which is paying way too much money for essentially no upward mobility.
If you look at where the Flames are from a structural standpoint, Bernier could be exactly what they need to get to the next level. We keep hearing about how he could be the next Devan Dubnyk, but anything over replacement level netminding would be a plus for Calgary. The Flames give up a middle-of-the-road number of shots. Now they just need someone to stop them.
Ramo isn’t the answer, and neither is Hiller. Bernier is a question mark, but he at least has the potential to take the team to the next level.