The Former King Off to a Great Start, the Current King Isn't - But There's No Need to Get Ahead of Ourselves
When the Los Angeles Kings traded him in July, there was an abundance of support for Jonathan Bernier as fans of the silver-and-black, as little as they wanted him to leave, knew that were happy to see the native of Laval, Quebec finally get his chance to be a starting netminder having warmed the bench in Southern California for the last few years. But some of that support has turned to sour grapes – and for what?
Jonathan Bernier is off to a great start with his new team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and rightfully so. Fans in Los Angeles knew full well what No. 45 was capable of, yet there are some Kings supporters who hold some jealousy to the newest Leaf backstop while others merely preferred Bernier over Quick – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
In four games for Toronto thus far, Bernier has posted a 3-1-1 record with a razor-thin 0.85 goals-against average and a .974 save percentage – much better numbers than Jonathan Quick’s 2-2-0 start with his 3.13 GAA and .890 save percentage. But so what? I’m not pretending Quick’s performance so far this season is better than what we’ve seen and I’m certainly not downplaying Bernier’s excellent play but the campaign isn’t even two weeks old. Let’s not forget that this time last year, the general consensus among fans was that the season was going to be canceled and players were on the verge of making their exodus overseas. What a difference three months make – and that statement shouldn’t be taken any differently this year.
Entering the 2001-02 season, the Calgary Flames were hoping to find themselves a solid, number-one netminder after having gone through a ridiculously-long carousel of backstops the few seasons prior. Having acquired Roman Turek from St. Louis that off-season, the Flames didn’t care about the Czech’s reputation as a playoff-underachiever – they just wanted to get to the playoffs.
So, the Turek experiment began in Calgary and after the first few weeks of the season, the former Blue was playing as if the Flames would have their goaltending troubles locked away for years. After all, if sentimentality played a role, it was that Turek’s countryman Dominik Hasek was still setting the hockey world ablaze with his magnificent play during this time. Unfortunately for Turek and the Flames, things began to unravel and soon enough, the experiment was over in Calgary.
Of course, while Turek’s situation should in no way be compared to Bernier’s in Toronto, it is fair to point out said example as, if nothing else, a mere possibility of history repeating itself. With all due respect to Turek, I don’t see Bernier’s fate following the same path, which is nothing more than a personal belief so please don’t berate me if No. 45 doesn’t find long-term success in Toronto.
While it is easy to long for him after Jonathan Quick allowed that forgettable goal on Monday night, Jonathan Bernier’s success is deserved and to be honest, I’d much rather see him succeed in a city where he will get an enormous amount of playing time as opposed to how things were with his original team.
It isn’t as if the Kings dealt Bernier to Anaheim or San Jose or to a more potent championship contender like Pittsburgh. Jonathan Bernier was shipped off to a storied franchise that is, in a sense, hockey’s answer to the Chicago Cubs. While their championship drought isn’t nearly as long, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a difficult time not only putting a winning product together on the ice but finding an ownership that cares more about winning than the almighty dollar. In that vein, Tim Leiweke (who previously owned none other than the Los Angeles Kings) coming to Toronto as CEO of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment is certainly a step in the right direction.
While I’m not a fan, I do find it gratifying when the Leafs are, you know, good. In terms of goaltending, I haven’t been this excited for the Leafs since they signed Curtis Joseph in the summer of 1998. He may not have led them to the Promised Land but Joseph did lead Toronto to the Conference Final in 1999 and again in 2002. The Leafs did have Ed Belfour in net since then but with the future Hall-of-Famer in the twilight of his career while in Toronto, it is reassuring to know Jonathan Bernier is still just 25.
For those in Los Angeles who simply want to refer to him as “the one that got away”, remember that Jonathan Bernier had his fate sealed in La-La Land when Jonathan Quick signed a 10-year deal with the Kings, so this wasn’t a case of the Kings trading their only asset away. If the Maple Leafs are to become a serious Stanley Cup contender in the next few years, I hope it’s with Jonathan Bernier, plain and simple. You may call me bias – and you would be correct doing so – but watching Bernier take advantage of the limited ice time he had with the Kings was enough to convince me of how well the former Lewiston MAINEiac would fare beyond Los Angeles. The same could be said for Vesa Toskala six years earlier but with all due respect to the San Jose Sharks (Toskala’s former team), the Kings’ ability to develop a player from rags to riches if you will is second-to-none.
The season is still very young so there’s no sense in planning a parade in Toronto. As for those fans in Los Angeles discouraged by Jonathan Quick’s early start, there’s no reason to call for the firing of (general manager) Dean Lombardi or (head coach) Darryl Sutter or any other rash decision the franchise will regret further down the road.
With all the talk involving Bernier and Quick, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge who the Kings received from Toronto in exchange. Forward Matt Frattin and goaltender Ben Scrivens are two players I was very impressed with when they donned the blue-and-white – mainly because few players wearing the Maple Leafs sweater can do such a thing, but nevertheless. When they were traded, I was excited as I had a strong feeling both would be tremendous fits to the Kings, even if the latter won’t see the ice very often.
This tale of two goaltenders, if you will, isn’t a competition. There is no Quick versus Bernier storyline – nor should there be. When No. 45 was traded to the Leafs, I saw the situation as two teams each having a solid, starting netminder with all due respect to Toronto’s James Riemer.
While he may no longer be a King, I am still happy for Jonathan Bernier finding a great deal of early-season success – and why shouldn’t I be? Despite being kept on the bench for the majority of the last few seasons, Jonathan Bernier’s maintained an exceptional attitude, gaining notoriety as a consummate professional. Besides, if anyone wants to look at the best-case scenario for both sides, it’s a meeting in the Stanley Cup Final between the Kings and the Leafs – and if it means that such a series would be reminiscent of the 1993 Conference Final between the two clubs, then put me down for an entire section of tickets for each game. I may not be able to afford that but let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.