Reimer vs. Bernier: The Case for Reimer as the 2015-16 Starter

Reimer vs. Bernier: The Case for Reimer as the 2015-16 Starter
Sean Tierney

The Leafs are wrapping up their 2014-15 season with a falter, a sputter, and a lottery-focused collapse.

Sure, the Leafs’ freefall has had its moments. Like the TSN deadline day Twitter ticker “scandal.”

Or Phil Kessel’s increasingly tense media scrums:

Or maybe even the Kessel-David Booth tussle:

Despite all the scandals and rumours and non-hockey-like-actually-playing-on-the-ice-against-another-team stuff, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still a hockey team with hockey-related issues to settle before the up-coming season.

One of the most underrated issues to be resolved next year? What to do with incumbent starter Jonathan Bernier and the deposed but never disposed of James Reimer.

Bernier is a restricted free agent this summer, which will force the Leafs to make a call on the goaltender they hoped would be their clear-cut starter. But has Bernier actually solidified his position with the team? Or is Reimer a reasonable (or even preferable) starting option for the club?

Let’s take a closer look at Bernier vs. Reimer: The battle for the Leafs’ crease.

Contracts and Cash: Bernier vs. Reimer

Bernier is an RFA at season’s end. So he can’t just pick up and leave Toronto.

For the sake of clarity, Burgundy Brigade has laid out the RFA options neatly. The options go like this:

The player has four options after receiving this offer. They may sign the qualifying offer and accept it as a one-year contract;

they may elect salary arbitration (something the team may do as well) where a neutral third party will hear salary requests from both the player and the team and then determine a one-year agreement;

they may negotiate a new contract with the team;

or they may test the market and potentially sign an offer sheet from a new team.

Salary arbitration can breed a little animosity between a player and a team. It isn’t likely to be the first option here.

The Leafs have yet to openly discuss any plans to negotiate a new, long-term contract. That may happen if the Leafs tab Bernier as their long-term starter but it isn’t clear that Shanahan, Nonis and co. have made that call.

Another team may attempt to ink Bernier to an offer sheet (Oilers?) but Bernier has been a borderline replacement-level goaltender this year (.912 save percentage ranks 29th in the NHL, 2.89 goals against average ranks 35th). Other teams aren’t likely interested in giving up the first and third round pick compensation package the Leafs would be owed if Bernier signs between $3.3 million and $5 million per year (approximately).

That leaves option A – a qualifying offer for Bernier – as the most reasonable prediction. Teams are only required to offer 100% of the prior contract value in qualifying offers, meaning the Leafs need only extend a one-year contract at about $3 mil/year.

However, Jonas Hiller earns $4.5 mil/year, Steve Mason earns $4.1 mil/year, and Ondrej Pavelec earns $3.9 mil/year. With starting goaltenders of this calibre making between $3.9 and $4.5 million, it is reasonable to expect that Bernier will demand similar cash, even after a down year.

Meanwhile, James Reimer has another year left on his contract for next season at $2 million dollars ($2.3 mil cap hit).

If the Leafs decide to make their 2015-16 goaltending decision based on cash savings and contractual flexibility, Reimer has an edge over Bernier. Starting Reimer, trading Bernier away and promoting one of their AHL farmhands (Garret Sparks, Christopher Gibson, or Antoine Bibeau) to be the backup would provide the Leafs will some financial flexibility and a chance to test out a youngster from the Marlies at the NHL level.


Goalie Stats

This season has been a rough one for both of Toronto’s netminders.

2014-15 Statistic Bernier Reimer 2014-15 NHL Average
GAA 2.89 3.24 2.53
SV% .912 .903 .915
GSAA -4.13 -10.06 0.00

The league-wide average for goals against this season is 2.53 and the average NHL save percentage is .915. Bernier and Reimer each fall below these marks – Bernier has posted a save percentage of .912 and a goals against average of 2.89. Reimer has posted a line of .903 – 3.24. In terms of traditional goalie stats, the pair has been clearly below average this season.

In Hockey Reference’s goals saved above average, Bernier ranks 71st in the NHL with a -4.13, while Reimer trails close behind at 80th with a -10.06 goals saved above average. This means that Bernier has given up about four goals that an average goalie would have stopped. Reimer has given up ten such goals. Again, below average for both.

Clearly, neither Bernier nor Reimer has much to be excited about based on their poor play behind a porous defense. At least not when you consider traditional goaltending stats. Though this isn’t much of a case for Reimer over Bernier, this point at least shows that both goalies have performed similarly poorly. Neither holds much of an edge.


Low, Medium, and High Danger Saves

Recently, Sportsnet’s Stephen Burtch has made two claims that help the case for Reimer over Bernier:

So, as Burtch points out, a goalie’s save percentage on high danger shots is a strong indicator of future success. Here’s a look at how Bernier and Reimer’s save percentages by zone, including high danger, compare this season:

Shot Type Bernier Reimer
Low Danger Saves 498 290
Low Danger SV% 97.08 96.67
Medium Danger Saves 327 177
Medium Danger SV% 93.16 91.24
High Danger Saves 288 185
High Danger SV% 83.97 82.59

*please note: All data from War On Ice. All stats are 5v5


Bernier has the edge across the board. The Leafs tandem has similar marks against low danger shots – it’s probably fair to call that a wash. Bernier has a clear edge in medium danger save percentage.

But Burtch claims that it is the high danger save percentage that is most likely to repeat. Bernier’s 83.97 mark is good for 20th spot among starting goalies (more than 15 games played). Bernier is just behind Viktor Fasth at 19th and just ahead of Henrik Lundqvist at 21st.

Reimer’s 82.59 high danger save percentage ranks 28th. He ranks just behind Ben Bishop and just ahead of Frederik Andersen.

Both Bernier and Reimer rank ahead of Brian Elliott, and the entirety of Team Finland; Kari Lehtonen, Tuukka Rask, and Antti Niemi.


While Bernier has the edge over Reimer in high danger save percentage, their ranks are similar and neither is near the NHL’s elite. This season’s work suggests that neither of the Leafs goalies is among the best in the league and that any advantage that Bernier holds isn’t large.


Putting it All Together

In traditional statistics, Reimer and Bernier have been worse-than-average goalies this season. In advanced goalie stats like high danger save percentage, both goalies rank in the NHL’s bottom-third yet both have outpaced some of the bigger names in goaltending (Rask, Elliott, etc).

Perhaps the greatest difference is that Bernier is set to cost between $4 million and $5 million next season and beyond while Reimer is set to earn $2 million (cap hit of $2.3 million).

In the end, there isn’t much to choose between the two in terms of performance this season. Reimer is set to earn half of what Bernier will earn. Bernier might still have very reasonable trade value, were the Leafs to shop him around. With the Leafs almost sure to be a losing squad again next season, the very marginal stats boost provided by Bernier is likely to be wasted.

While this may amount to a backhanded endorsement, James Reimer is probably the best fit as the Leafs starting goaltender next season.

All salary cap information courtesy of


What do you think, Leafs fans? Do you prefer to have Jonathan Bernier in the Leafs crease? Or is James Reimer good enough to hold down the Leafs starting gig while the club rebuilds? 

  • Sean

    The Leafs aren’t likely to need a top-flight goalie for a couple of seasons. The real question is about Bernier’s trade value after a relatively poor season.

Sean Tierney

Sean Tierney writes articles about Atlantic Division teams, working to include analytics whenever possible. He has also written about the Leafs, Habs, Sens, Raptors, and Blue Jays for Fansided, The Hockey Writers, and Bleacher Report. He enjoys long walks on the beach and candle lit dinners and definitely isn’t the tallest guy in the men’s rec basketball league.

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