Jonathan Bernier: A Missed Opportunity

I have this terrible feeling that I am going to be able to create a full series of “Missed Opportunity” articles while Kevin Cheveldayoff is in office.

This morning the Toronto Maple Leafs and LA Kings completed a trade that will see “backup-yet-destined-to-be-a-great-starter” LA goaltender Jonathan Bernier head to “we-already-have-a-great-goalie-but-will-not-admit-it” Toronto for F Matt Frattin, G Ben Scrivens, and a second round pick in either 2014 or 2015 (Leafs choice).

Trying to understand this trade from a Leafs perspective is quite honestly a lost cause, but it’s hard not to think this is a truly missed opportunity on the Jets part. It seems to me that Chevy’s inability to be proactive in what has been accepted as an extremely vital and future defining summer for the Jets has officially cost them in the goaltending department. Although the Jets may not have been able to offer up what the Leafs did in this deal, I have a hard time believing that they couldn’t compete and give Dean Lombardi something to consider before signing off. It is also completely unacceptable that the Jets weren’t even rumored to be in talks with the Kings in acquiring Bernier, despite the glaring need for improvement in net.

First, The Obvious Points

It’s been said once and it will be said again. Ondrej Pavelec is not an NHL caliber starting goaltender. I’ve said it quite often, many others have said it, and if you are still in need of proof, check out this awesome article from our friends over at Arctic Ice Hockey.

I wrote earlier this spring how it would be smart for the Jets to go out and attempt to acquire a goaltender this summer, and actually mentioned both Ben Scrivens and Jonathan Bernier as potential pieces that were likely to be moved. Although I still think Scrivens is a strong goalie with potential, the rest of this article will be focused on the centerpiece of this deal in Jonathan Bernier, and how the Jets could have competed for his contract rights.

It’s easy to see why there is a fair amount of hype surrounding Bernier. This season in 14 games he posted a 9-3-1 record with a 1.88 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Even though the Kings are a solid defensive and puck possession team (in 5 on 5 stats they finished 3rd in shots against/60 minutes, 2nd in Fenwick For % and 1st in Corsi For %), there are times that they have relied heavily on their goaltending (see this years playoffs). An argument could easily be made that the constant threat of Bernier has truly pushed Jonathan Quick to strive into the franchise goaltender he is today, and has truly competed on more than one occasion for the starting job between the pipes in LA.

What Could The Jets Offer?

Here’s the tricky part. Trying to find that balance between giving up enough without hurting the team long term. I’m ready for a long of hate to come my way for proposing this, but I think the Jets could have offered the Kings Ondrej Pavelec, Alex Burmistrov and a 2nd round pick for Jonathan Bernier.

Before you go straight into the “screw this guy” mindset, let me make it clear that in no way do I think the Jets should be shopping away Burmistrov. I think I’ve made my stance clear on Burmi over time that I do like the guy. This is simply a choice based on what the Leafs offered and the Kings accepted, and based on a comparison between players.

The Break Down

I did not take my choice for Alex Burmistrov as a trade piece lightly. I considered many options including Scheifele, Eric O’Dell, Adam Lowry, Aaron Gagnon and Zach Redmond, but based on a few factors I landed on Burmistrov. Mostly are related to the fact that the Kings would want a younger player that the Jets were willing to part ways with. The Jets seem quite content and pleased with Scheif to this point, O’Dell, Lowry, Gagnon, and Redmond are all relatively unproven in the NHL (which I believe was a factor in the Kings choice), and we are all ware of a potential rift between Burmi and the Jets coaching staff.

In fact, when you compare Frattin and Burmistrov you could make the argument that they are very similar players.  Both are solid defensively, have a good offensive upside, and have provided their respective clubs with strong third and fourth line minutes during their time. Frattin may be bigger and managed to put up more compelling number this year, but he is also two years Burmistrov’s elder, played with more offensively skilled players in comparison to Burmi.  One could also argue that Burmistrov has more longterm upside for a team with plenty of current leadership and talent, that could give him more time to properly develop and grow.

Moving Pavelec out would have served a dual purpose for the Jets. Not only would it have provided Bernier with a clear number one goaltending position that he had been rumored to want, but it would have allowed the Jets to clear Pavelec’s contract. This would have not only given them space to sign the true starter, but “restart” their books moving forward into this offseason. Pavelec could then serve his time as the Kings backup, as obviously Quick would continue his clear role as a workload starter.

The second round pick could have been from this year (where the Jets currently have two) or next, as a way of evening out the abysmal contract the Kings would be taking on.

In Summary

In case you haven’t noticed, I had put a fair bit of thought into the potential of Bernier coming to Winnipeg. Would it have ever happened? Who knows. I guess we’ll never know considering the lack of activity from the Jets camp since the season ended. Heck, Bernier may have even refused to sign with the team following a trade.

It would have been nice though to know that there was the potential. To know that the people in charge of this team were aware of a mistake and taking action to correct it. Instead, we have what comes across as a missed opportunity and the status quo. That, and more talk in this city about some cracks in concrete than the lack of activity on Portage Avenue.

  • Robert Cleave

    Few points here. First, I’d rather not see the Jets flush NHLers for unproven goalies if they can help it. I like Gare Joyce’s comment from today that Bernier’s become a better prospect by not playing. I don’t mind him, but Burmistrov is an actual NHL player, and there’s no guarantee that a guy with 50-60 games under his belt will be a legit starter. I’m always mindful that “better than Pavelec” doesn’t mean a guy is a top end prospect, and he’d better be if you’re ditching a 21 year old that can play. The Jets hardly have enough NHL forwards as it is.

    Second, the Kings would have never, ever, ever, taken Pavs’ contract as part of any deal, and correctly so. They couldn’t fit 10M in goalie contracts under the cap, so taking him would have meant flipping him elsewhere, and that’s more work than it would have been worth.

    As it was, the Leafs had to take back 500K in salary to make the deal, and the 2 contracts they sent LA totalled about 1.6M. They needed cheap guys that could play, and likely wanted a back up goalie that didn’t stink as part of that return. Scrivens and Frattin are cheap, and Scrivens seems like he’ll be at least a decent back up. The only way Winnipeg would have been able to make a deal with LA would have been to ditch Pavs elsewhere and flip the return. Given the love affair Jets’ management has with Pavelec, we both know the chances of that happening.

    None of this should discourage the Jets from trying to get better goaltending, obviously, but I’m enough of a realist about Winnipeg’s management mindset to just hope they’re willing to spend for a slightly more expensive back up, like Emery or Khudobin. If they do that and that guy outplays Pavs, maybe the scales will finally fall from their eyes. Maybe.

  • Travis Hrubeniuk

    Very fair points. Like I said, there is no guarantee that the Kings would have really wanted to take on anything from the Jets. The real concern to me is that there wasn’t even the slightest mentioning of the Jets even trying.

    The option was always there that they could have bought out Pavelec’s contract, and moved a guy like Burmistrov. I think they really need to admit and face the mistake and do something, ANYTHING to try and improve at the position.

  • I can only see Pavelec being dealt in some kind of exchange of similarly onerous contracts, and at this point, I don’t believe management feels the need to move him anyway. I’m willing to give Ondrej one more year before I full blown hate his guts.

    Although I prefer that he stays a Jet, if Burmistrov is going to end up getting dealt, I wouldn’t mind if it’s at the Draft. Maybe dangle him and the 13th to move up. Lots of quality players will still be available around pick #7. I think a Darnell Nurse or Sean Monahan would be very good horses (they’re actually human beings) to add to the prospect stable. Hint Hint, Oilers management.

    Actually, can you imagine a backend that has Bogosian, Trouba and Nurse in a few years? That’s a beastly group – one that could make any Goalie’s numbers better.

  • I have an uneasy feeling that the Winnipeg Jets management group is going to do very little again this year. They will pick a few draft choices that they hype up…and preach patience.

    A GM has to have the courage of his convictions to do what is best for the team. If it costs him his job so be it. I see cautious, tentative and defenseable moves made by this GM. The Jets are in need of change…in every part of their roster…and I question the resolve of this management group to make changes.