Should the Blue Jackets Trade for Jonathan Bernier?

March 8, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing R.J. Umberger (18) tries to redirect the puck past Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

With news coming out that Kings' backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier has asked for a trade for the second time in five months, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the subject. If you've read any of my previous thoughts on the matter, you no doubt know how I feel on the subject. I was firmly in favor of getting both Jack Johnson and Jonathan Bernier from the Kings in the Jeff Carter deal. I would have liked it more than the first round pick, in fact.

I'm sure there are those that think I am being short-sighted in that approach, but at the time I was truly disappointed that the Jackets didn't appear to be interested in pursuing Bernier. Now, if you believe some of the things being reported, it may not have been that the Jackets had no interest; it may also have been that the Kings had no interest in dealing Bernier at the deadline. My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle; the Jackets may not have been interested in paying up to get Bernier, if the Kings are holding out for a higher price. In the end, who knows? The Jackets got another decent piece for Carter, and what's done is done.

With all of that having been said, I was certainly intrigued, then, when Aaron Portzline reported on Friday in Puck Rakers that the Blue Jackets had contacted Kings' GM Dean Lombardi about kicking the tires on a Bernier trade, it rekindled a lot of excitement on my part. In my view, a tandem of Bernier and Sergei Bobrovsky would make a nice battle in training camp and beyond, and with Allen York and Anton Forsberg to go along with recently drafted Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo all waiting down below, suddenly a position of extreme glaring weakness becomes an arguable strength.

But, enough about my man-crush on Bernier. Let's take a look at some of the factors going into a potential trade, and "decide" whether or not we think the Jackets should push for a trade.

First Things First: How "Available" Is Bernier?

This, of course, is the biggest question. For the sake of the rest of the argument below, we're going to assume that the Kings would be willing to trade him this summer. However, this is not the first time Bernier has asked to be traded, and the Kings don't appear to be in a giant hurry to move him.

For help with this story, I reached out to Niesy of the Kings' blog Jewels From The Crown. She wrote a piece covering the aspect of Porty's report that Steve Mason might be involved in a potential deal. When I asked her this question about how likely the Kings would be to actually trade Bernier right now, her answer was insightful:

The way it stands now is that Bernier is pushing for a trade, but per all the reporters with Lombardi sources (LA Times, LA Kings Insider, etc) the Kings would rather hold onto him for another season as a backup if the offers remain where they are right now. He is valuable to the team in his current role. They're not going to move him just because that's what he wants.

Colorado was interested in trading for him in 2011, and wound up going with Varlamov instead. Tampa Bay was also interested this season, but the Kings wouldn't trade him before Quick was re-signed. Overall, the Kings don't seem to be in much of a hurry. That makes sense, because Martin Jones isn't ready to take over as a backup.

So, there's that. It could be perceived in two ways. First, there's the notion of Quick. I can understand not wanting to move Bernier in February, considering the Kings could ill-afford to lose Quick to injury after having traded Bernier (in fairness to her point about him being valuable as a backup, Bernier only played four times after the trading deadline this season). In that respect, he was solid insurance. Quick is now entrenched as the starter, has signed his huge contract, but the main issue is still there: their #3 guy isn't ready to move up, so they need a solid back-up. More on that later.

Secondly, it could be a way to drive up the asking price. Dean Lombardi can play the "I don't have to trade him" card in an effort to get a better offer; it's Negotiating 101, and one could argue it was Scott Howson's biggest bargaining chip with Rick Nash, though Nash probably has much more leverage to force a deal than does Bernier.

So, suffice it to say, it sounds like Bernier could be had now, but the price is going to be potentially high. Definitely higher now that it will be in February 2013. We'll get back to the issue of price later on.

Second: Bernier The Player

This is obviously the most important aspect. Is Bernier a guy with legitimate #1 potential? Well, on paper he is; but we really just don't know, and that's because Jonathan Quick became so good so (wait for it) quickly, and Bernier has barely gotten a chance to play despite being the Kings' backup for two seasons.

Tale of the Tape:

Jonathan Bernier
DOB: August 7, 1988 (current age: 23)
Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall by the Kings in 2006
Height/Weight: 5'11, 186 lbs
Catches: Left

So, Bernier will go into this season at age 24, which is the same age as Steve Mason and Sergei Bobrovsky. Bernier is also a first round pick, which implies he's been highly touted throughout his career. I realize this means absolutely nothing with respect to his NHL ability, but we'll do the best we can to set some parameters.

For comparison's sake, I wanted to take a look at three or four comparative goalies that have been in the "good guys stuck behind stars" discussion. Let's look at Bernier as compared to: Cory Schneider, Jhonas Enroth, and Tuukka Rask. I'll start it off by borrowing from my comments in Shrapnel from a few days ago, when I compared Bernier to Schneider:

Consider: Bernier is two years younger than Schneider (24 vs. 26).

Bernier and Schneider were both first round picks (Bernier #11, Schneider #26).

They’ve played a similar number of AHL games in their careers (Bernier 115, Schneider 136).
Bernier had a better AHL GAA (2.19 vs. Schneider’s 2.31).
Bernier had a better AHL save percentage (.927 vs Schneider’s .921)

They both have small NHL sample sizes (Bernier 48, Schneider 68).
Schneider has been the better NHL goalie, but not by a huge margin. Bernier hasn’t been horrible.
NHL GAA: Schneider 2.24, Bernier 2.50
NHL Sv%: Schneider .928, Bernier .910

Those numbers include a 4-game stint for Bernier in 07-08 when he was in juniors and got called up on emergency basis. He gave up 16 goals in those four games, and had an .864 save%. In fairness, there was no reason for him to be in LA at all.*

Take those four games out, and his NHL numbers look like this: 44 games, 2.35 gaa, .915 sv%

*Upon further inspection, Bernier's first four NHL games in 2007 were actually in the first six of the season. As a 19-year-old rookie, the Kings gave him four starts. He won the first by giving up just one goal on 27 shots. He lost the final three, giving up a total of 15 goals. The Kings sent him to Manchester (he was 19 in time to be able to play) for three more games, and then back to juniors so as not to have to burn year-one of his ELC. Just in the interest of full disclosure...

To sum up, Bernier doesn't compare horribly to Schneider, and I'll admit to thinking Schneider was the closest to a "sure thing" of goalies potentially available this off-season. Let's compare numbers with some other guys we'd kicked around (ages are as of the start of the upcoming season):

Name Age AHL Games AHL gaa AHL sv% NHL Games NHL gaa NHL sv%
Jonathan Bernier 24 115 2.19 .927 48 2.50 .910
Cory Schneider 26 136 2.31 .921 68 2.24 .928
Jhonas Enroth 24 147 2.64 .915 41 2.75 .913
Tuukka Rask 25 102 2.43 .911 102 2.20 .926

In terms of purely looking at the NHL numbers, it looks like there are two tiers, here. Clearly Schneider and Rask have the bigger NHL sample sizes, and also the better numbers as well. They also have circumstances that have pushed them into the starting roles, with Tim Thomas going on hiatus and Roberto Luongo struggling in the playoffs and being "open" to a trade. At the end of the day, only Rask has a sample size even close to "big enough" to determine longer term success; he's probably the best of the four.

Bernier looks to get the slight edge over Enroth, and unlike the other two Bernier is now firmly locked out behind Quick, who just signed for 10 years after winning a Conn Smythe. The thing I keep coming back to is that Bernier is the youngest of the four guys, and has the best AHL numbers. That, of course, means next to nothing in the grand scheme of things, but I keep coming back to Bernier's last three years:

2009-2010 was a full season in Manchester with a 30-21-6 record, 2.03 gaa, and .936 sv%. He also played three games in LA, and with that his NHL numbers over that span are 44 games, with a 19-14-5 record, 2.35 gaa, and .915 sv%. He did that as Quick's backup with sparse chances to play. In short, this is a guy who has the pedigree, has great AHL numbers, is still young, and would make a legitimate push for the Jackets' #1 spot THIS year.

If you know me, you know I like numbers. And, they're great and all. But, they don't always tell the entire story. It's easy to look at the numbers of player A and player B, and then make a 1-to-1 comparison. Yet, every player is different. I again reached out to our friend Niesy from JFTC to get some better perspective on Bernier from someone who has seen him develop and play. The following questions and answers are from an e-mail exchange with her.

DP: I've been a fan of Bernier's as a potential guy to go after for awhile now, especially as Jonathan Quick has taken over the clear #1 mantle in LA. Bernier's young, but he has first round pedigree and better AHL numbers than the likes of Cory Schneider. Is he a guy that can offer a legit push to be a #1 right now?

I'm no goalie scout, but many of them think he's ready to take on a greater role in the NHL. However, he doesn't have enough experience right now to warrant handing him the starter role on a silver platter. That's what's been so tough for him. The biggest obstacle in his path is lack of playing time, and he didn't get nearly enough of that when Jonathan Quick had an exceptional season.

All 23-year-old goalies are a work in progress. After one more year as Quick's backup, or splitting time with another experienced goalie, he might be ready to go full time. You expect goalies to hit their stride at age 26 or so (like Schneider and Quick). Any team that acquires him should keep working to develop his potential instead of expecting him to swoop in as a savior.

DP: Stylistically, obviously there's only one Jonathan Quick. What are the similarities and differences between Quick and Bernier? Given the excellent depth in goal the Kings have in their organization, is it safe to project that Bernier is picking up some of the same things that Quick has learned along the way?

Quick has a style of his own, so it's difficult to compare them. But neither are very large, so they can't just block out the net like the 6'3" behemoths who are all the rage now - they have to be smarter and faster to make up for it. Quick is very flexible and athletic. Bernier is a hybrid standup/butterfly goalie who relies on solid positioning

DP: What are Bernier's biggest strengths, and what does he still struggle with? Have there ever been questions about his mental makeup and/or work habits?

Bernier is very ambitious and works hard in practice. He has always wanted to be the #1.

There were moments in his career where he was disappointed to be passed over and had to be talked to. He is a couple of years younger than Quick, and they didn't want to rush his development. But the Kings keep close tabs on everyone and make sure their heads are on straight (Quick was no stranger to the wakeup call himself). Bernier responded to Hextall's challenge by putting together a stellar season in the AHL (.936 SV%).

In the AHL and in juniors, he had the heavy workload of a #1 starter. Now some of his struggles come from no longer being able play 80% of the games. He needs a certain amount of time to get into a groove. Mentally, it must have been difficult to adjust to a backup role - you have to be ready for every opportunity, and his chances to play are few and far between. Bernier adjusted by treating every practice like a game. He's had to learn patience the hard way.

He could use a little more aggression and just plain experience. When Bernier's on, his strengths lie in solid positioning, quickness, and rebound control.

So, there you go. That is a guy I want to go after, if I'm the Jackets. Like she said, I wouldn't want to just hand him the job, but throw him next to Bobrovsky--two guys who both think they can be starters in the NHL and are motivated--and I think the goalie position gets infinitely better in the next year or two.

Now we know about the player, which then leads us to the most important piece in this puzzle.

Third: A Trade - What Would It Cost?

This is where it gets tricky. As we've seen with Rick Nash, what the league-at-large may think is the fair value of a player may not jibe with what the player's current team feels is fair value. The answer, as it always seems to, probably lies in the middle. We talked above about how "available" Bernier is, and that obviously has an effect on the price.

I asked Niesy about what the asking price might be to get something done THIS summer, and it seemed to bear out the above:

The asking price last season was a 1st round pick and good prospect (pretty high cost, which probably reflects the fact that they didn't want to trade him before they locked up Quick). However, in regards to the value of that 1st rounder, I don't think they ever expected a lottery pick.

For prospects, they have a need for left wings. Another possibility is a shutdown defensive defensman. But prospects are probably a few seasons away from helping, so perhaps the position doesn't really matter.

With respect to the hole on the Kings' roster if they moved Bernier (assuming they do believe their #3 guy isn't ready for NHL back-up duty), it would mean an NHL-back-up goalie probably has to go back. With all due respect, Steve Mason is probably not that guy. He makes too much money, and is a bit too much of an unknown in terms of what you're going to get, especially if you're giving up a guy who is a proven back-up and has #1 potential. When I asked Niesy about this aspect of a trade package--in the context of getting a deal done this summer--she seemed to think a goalie would be desirable, but not absolutely necessary:

A goalie wouldn't necessarily have to come back in the deal, though they would have to get one from somewhere. Would they take less than a 1st and a prospect now? Maybe, but it'd have to be something that would motivate them to give up a year of Bernier.

Columbus's only other real option is Curtis McElhinney. He's got some NHL back-up experience, and he's signed to a cheap, two-way contract: one year, $750,000 salary if he's in the NHL. Then again, he's Curtis McElhinney.

Let's review. Last season at the deadline before Quick was resigned, it was a first--though not a lottery first--and a prospect. The Jackets currently have two 2013 firsts, one of which is LA's pick.

Here's some context. The Predators traded Anders Lindback this summer to Tampa Bay. Lindback is very similar to Bernier in terms of age (three months older) and NHL experience, but that's where the pedigree similarities end. Lindback was a 7th round pick by Nashville in 2008, and spent two more years in Sweden before coming to the US. He played just six games in the AHL in his career, and has played just 38 games in Nashville.

So, suffice it to say, he's a bit more unproven in North American hockey, though he does come out of a system in which he spent some time working with Mitch Korn, who may be the best goalie guy in the business right now. That said, Lindback's numbers in the NHL compare very strongly to Bernier's:

Lindback's NHL resume is: 38 games, 2.53 gaa, .914 sv%

Bernier's NHL resume is: 48 games, 2.50 gaa, .910 sv%

Lindback was an RFA, which of course made things a bit different for Nashville in that, given their salary constraints, they couldn't afford to pay Lindback what Tampa Bay gave him ($3.6 million for two years) considering what they're paying Pekka Rinne. That said, what did they get? The trade looked like this:

Nashville sent Lindback, former Jackets fourth-liner Kyle Wilson, and a 7th round pick to Tampa Bay. The Lightning sent back two 2nd rounders in last month's draft, a 2013 3rd rounder, and goalie Sebastien Caron. Caron is a 32-year-old guy who has played 96 games in the NHL in his career and deemed not good enough to crack Tampa's lineup. In other words, Curtis McElhinney.

(Yep, you had to know I'd bring it back.)

So, Nashville traded the goalie in question, plus two pretty low-level assets, assuming you consider a 7th round pick an asset at all. They didn't get a 1st rounder, but instead got two 2nd rounders: #37, which came to Tampa Bay via Minnesota, who'd gotten it from San Jose, and #50 which went to Tampa Bay from Philly. In other words, almost the exact same thing the Jackets did to get Bobrovsky. The 2013 3rd rounder is yet-to-be-determined as to its spot/value. Suffice it to say, you know how I feel about third rounders.

If the price for Bernier was a 1st round (non lottery) pick and a prospect in February, one can assume it's still close to that now. if I were Scott Howson, I'd give them the 1st round pick if they took Steve Mason. However, to start out, this would be my initial offer to the Kings:

Columbus Gets:
G Jonathan Bernier

Los Angeles Gets:
2nd round pick
F Matt Calvert
G Curtis McElhinney

This is better than the deal that Nashville got for Lindback, as the Kings don't include any positional players or picks. McElhinney fills the need for a warm body to play 15 games for LA, and/or to keep that seat warm until Martin Jones is ready to move up. The Jackets' second round pick has the potential to be in the 30-35 range, if they finish where many people expect them to.

McElhinney is on a cheap, one-year, two-way deal, so there's no real risk for LA. Calvert is in the last year of his ELC. The total cap hit for Calvert and McElhinney is $1,641,667. Bernier's cap hit is $1,250,000. So, if you want to throw in cash or a low-level player to make up the difference, that would be fine.

****

Many thanks to Niesy for her contributions to this piece.

Alright, Cannon. Tell me why I'm crazy!

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