Leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline in early April, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis said he was in the market for a veteran goaltender to help out his young tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens. Some of the names that were mentioned in speculation were Roberto Luongo and Miikka Kiprusoff.
"Both our (current) goalies are aware of it, it's not that we don't think that we have NHL-calibre goaltenders, or goalies with the ability to become very good starting goaltenders," Nonis said on TSN Drive with Dave Naylor on TSN Radio 1050 Toronto in February. "But if we could add someone to help them along, a veteran that would help them grow, then we would do it."
But nothing could be worked out so Reimer was the man for the playoff stretch drive.
Reimer finished the regular season with a record of 19-8-5 and helped the Leafs make the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Then, he came within a whisker of backstopping the Leafs to a Game 7 win over the Boston Bruins in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. He had a 2.88 goals-against-average and a save percentage of .923 in the series.
So some would assume that Reimer had won enough trust of the Leafs organization to be named the starter next season. That is, until the team gave up Scrivens, forward Matt Frattin and a second round pick to acquire Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. The battle lines have now been drawn for the starting position. Or have they in your eyes? Is Jonathan Bernier an upgrade in net for the Leafs?
The careers of the two goalies have a lot in common. Both were standouts in junior, both were drafted in 2006, both spent some time in the minors and now both are fighting for the starting job in Toronto.
Reimer was drafted from the Red Deer Rebels in the fourth round, 99th overall and came up from the Toronto Marlies in 2010-11 after Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere faltered. He jumped on the opportunity, going 20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage. Last season, he missed 24 games due to injury and never really got on track. This season, he showed he can be a No. 1 goalie, albeit in a lockout-shortened 48-game season.
Bernier comes to Toronto with a great deal of promise. Drafted 11th overall by the Kings, the Lewiston MAINEiacs product was expected to be the starter for many years to come. In 2009-10, he posted eye-popping numbers with the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, including a 2.03 GAA and a save percentage of 0.936. It would be his last season in the minors.
Unfortunately for Bernier, Jonathan Quick was just emerging as an NHL standout at the same time, leaving the junior phenom on the bench in a backup role. While his talents are unquestioned, his experience remains lacking.
The 24-year-old Bernier has played in 62 games as a backup over parts of four seasons while the 25-year-old Reimer has played in 104 games and one playoff series over his three years in the league, mostly as the starter.
During his conference call on Sunday, Nonis made it clear that the starter's role is up for grabs.
"Nothing is being guaranteed to anybody," said Nonis. "If Jonathan Bernier becomes a No. 1 goaltender because he plays better and stronger and Randy [Carlyle] feels more comfortable, then that's what happens. If James won't give up that net and he's the guy who's our starter, then that's fantastic, too."
Guests on The Mike Richards In The Morning Show on TSN Radio 1050 Toronto offered up their thoughts on Bernier.
"Just go let him battle it out with James Reimer, make it a fair fight, see who's the starter but I've got to think that Bernier is going to beat out Reimer," said Pierre McGuire of NBC Sports Network.
"I think the Leafs paid a very fair, if under-priced value for what potentially could be a star goalie," said Steve Simmons of Sun Media.
They've had their say, so now we want yours.
Is Reimer still the Leafs' starting goaltender? Or is Bernier the upgrade in net the Leafs have been looking for?
It's Your! Call.