According to TSN, the Los Angeles Kings have been actively shopping goaltender Jonathan Bernier for the past week or so and according to Newsday, one of those teams interested in Bernier’s services is the New York Islanders.
Despite playing a competitive opening-round series with the heavily-favoured Pittsburgh Penguins this postseason, it was clear as day that goaltending on the Island was the Achilles`Heel. Evgeni Nabokov, as successful as he has been in between the pipes through the majority of his career, simply is not the same goaltender he once was.
Nabokov, who will be 38 this July, worried me whenever a player of the opposing team broke in on a full or partial breakaway. Unfortunately for Nabokov, those concerns were well-founded as the Kazakhstan-born backstop was more often than not overmatched. With the Islanders do also have Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson in the mix between the pipes, it isn`t exactly unfair to suggest that neither of the two are considered starter material unlike Bernier who has played under Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi who is notorious for developing young players at an appropriate pace.
While he was decent during his first stint in Los Angeles in 2007, Jonathan Bernier was still a long way from being an NHL mainstay. After returning to his junior team in Lewiston, Maine followed by a tour of duty in the American Hockey League with the Manchester Monarchs, Bernier was ready to return to the big league – this time for good.
Bernier, who turns 25 in August, was called up late in the 2009-10 season and went on to spend the next three full seasons in Los Angeles where he filled in admirably as Jonathan Quick’s backup going 28-17-6 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a save-percentage of .925 with six shutouts. There certainly isn’t any argument that Bernier had a few bouts of inconsistency but overall, he has proven that he is ready to be the number-one guy in goal for any team – and there are more than a few teams in near-dire of having a starter on their side, including the Philadelphia Flyers who after buying out Ilya Bryzgalov and testing the waters with recently-acquired Steve Mason, are in need of a backstop with the potential to take them far.
This past season, however, few fans in Los Angeles are willing to see Bernier go even though they have a proven, Conn Smythe-winning netminder in Jonathan Quick.
The most reticence I find between Kings fans and seeing Bernier traded is knowing that they may not have a reliable backup – immediately at least – when Bernier does get shipped out of town. While I wholeheartedly understand such reluctance especially considering Jonathan Quick’s back surgery last summer, it is time to cut the cord and let go of Bernier. As if it isn’t unfair enough chastising Quick for losing a game but to keep someone of Bernier’s calibre on the bench simply because the team or its fans are too afraid to move on is inexcusable. From what I’ve seen, Bernier has learned everything there is to know from Quick: how to be a clutch netminder and how to carry a team all the while maintaining a laidback demeanor is such a valuable asset that it is a colossal mistake to see that go to waste.
While I give the Los Angeles Kings enormous credit for reaching the Conference Finals this season in an era when most defending champions bow out quickly, the team does have its share of holes to fill and while a Bernier trade may not fill those holes in one shot, it will make the Kings a lot stronger heading into next season.
To suggest that Dean Lombardi is a very smart man is quite the understatement so why Kings fans would not have faith in him making the best move possible for the team is unfathomable.
Jonathan Bernier may be on his way out of town – perhaps to Long Island, Philadelphia or wherever – but the Los Angeles Kings will be a stronger team without him - even though they have been strong with him - and whoever fills in the team’s next backup whether it’d be Martin Jones, J.F. Berube or a veteran free-agent, Jonathan Quick will help guide him the same way he did with Jonathan Bernier.
And in the long run, that is nothing less than a win-win situation.