Jonathan Bernier is seeking more than $5 million per season in arbitration, but the Toronto Maple Leafs want to pay the netminder significantly less.
As the two sides prepare to head to club-elected arbitration Friday, the goaltender’s asking price, $5.1 million, and the Maple Leafs offer, $2.89 million, were reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. But even with roughly $2.2 million separating the parties, it’s unlikely Toronto won’t fork over the money to meet Bernier somewhere in the middle, especially considering he has earned it over the past two seasons.
While some would look at the Maple Leafs success – or lack thereof – in the past two years and place the blame on goaltending, Bernier has actually been quite steady between the pipes. Consider that since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, of the 33 goaltenders who have played at least 3,500 minutes at 5-on-5, Bernier has the 15th best save percentage in the league. Sure, that’s only slightly above average, but a contract in the $4 million range is about the going rate for a second-tier starting netminder.
It would be easy, however, to point out that of the 33 goaltenders to log that much ice time at 5-on-5, Bernier has the fifth worst goals-against per 60 minutes. The thing is, though, that no other goaltender in the bottom-10 of goals-against per 60 faces the amount of shots Bernier has.
Per 60 minutes of 5-on-5, Bernier has faced an average of 32.83 shots. Of the goaltenders who have played with any regularity over the past two seasons – think in the 40-game range – only three others have had to deal with the barrage of shots that Bernier has. One is fellow Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer and the others are the Sabres’ Robin Lehner and Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth. And when it comes to the 3,000-plus minute goaltenders, none have seen the kind of rubber that Bernier has. The closest is Ottawa's Craig Anderson, who sees nearly half a shot less per 60 minutes.
Even still, Bernier has maintained a 5-on-5 SP of .927 – better than that of the Frederik Andersen, Marc-Andre Fleury, Antti Niemi and Ryan Miller. Andersen is the outlier of that group, making a mere $1.15 million per season. But each of Fleury, Niemi and Miller earn more than $4.5 million, with Miller and Fleury at or close to $6 million. This is to say that at $5.1 million, Bernier still wouldn’t be carrying an awful cap hit for the goaltender he is capable of being.
What’s more likely, though, is that arbitration leads to Bernier and the Maple Leafs finding middle ground through arbitration. The aforementioned $4 million salary would mean the sides would have to meet almost exactly at the midway point. That would make Bernier only the 25th highest paid goaltender in the league. With a platoon of a $4 million Bernier and Reimer at his $2.3 million cap hit, the Maple Leafs would have $6.3 million tied up in goaltending, 12th lowest in the league. For a team in a rebuilding phase, that’s not terrible.
There’s almost no way Toronto walks away from a deal with Bernier, no matter what the cap hit may be. And if the two sides meet in the middle, as they likely will, the Maple Leafs are in good shape.