Jonathan Bernier has been a star of the rumor mill for years -- no surprise, since the promising 24-year-old netminder has been stuck behind Quick.
Though he’s been a terrific teammate, the naturally competitive Bernier is eager to move on as well. He caused an uproar when he said as much last June, but his wait for a larger role has never caused a problem on the team.
This summer, though, a move should finally happen. One of Lombardi’s top three tasks this offseason should be trading Jonathan Bernier -- ideally, before the draft is done.
We'll talk about possible offer sheets and trade returns. But first, let’s review a little history on why Bernier has survived multiple trade deadlines and remained a King up to the end of the season.
The Cheap Goalie Luxury
Lombardi had good reasons to hang onto Bernier for the last few years. The GM’s philosophy is to build from the net out. With both Quick and Bernier signed for dirt cheap, he had two good options in net for $3 million total. That set up a competition for the #1 spot that pushed both goalies to improve, and also gave him insurance in case of injury. (You don’t have to sell fans who survived Fukufuji and the Year of Five Goalies on the importance of that.)
When other teams came calling for Bernier, Lombardi could afford to set the price high (a first round pick plus a prospect kept popping up in rumors). Other GMs may have found this too rich for their blood. I thought it was smart. Two ideal goalie contracts allowed the Kings the luxuries of depth and competition. While Bernier had a spot on the team, there was no need to move him for anything less than an overpayment.
Even after Quick locked up his place in the core by winning the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup, his back injury gave them incentive to keep Bernier in the fold a little longer. Once again, Bernier trade talk stalled. If the season had begun on time, Quick would have missed months of action.
The injury did still allow Bernier an opportunity to showcase his talents, though. While lockout gave Quick time to recover physically, it was a while before he returned to top form—in fact, Quick was a sub-.900 goaltender for quite some time. Fortunately for the Kings, Bernier was calm, collected, and impressive in net when they needed him to be, and the young backup secured several wins.
Without Bernier to step in and stabilize the situation in net from February to March, the Kings could very well have missed the playoffs. Lombardi downplayed the possibility of moving him during the 2013 season, saying "He's a big part of us winning" and pointing out he had no replacement backup in the minors. Once again, Bernier’s value to the team was more important than getting a return at the trade deadline.
Offer Sheet Danger Zone
But now, Bernier's sweet contract is expiring. Though he will still be a restricted free agent, and the Kings could theoretically re-sign him, the first year of Jonathan Quick's $5.8M mega-deal is set to kick in too. Since the battle for the #1 spot is over, Bernier doesn't have incentive to sign another bargain contract with LA right off the bat.
Bernier could be at risk of drawing an offer sheet unless Lombardi takes care of business. If another team were to offer him a $3M contract the Kings would be faced with the choice of spending more than $8M next season on their goalie tandem, or getting a measly second round draft pick in return.
Broad Street Hockey already kicked around that possibility. But here’s Lombardi’s philosophy on the offer sheet threat in a nutshell: "You don’t let your good young players go for nothing."
Lombardi has the kind of old guard GM mentality to match an offer sheet just to convince others that poaching is futile. But we think he’s too smart to let it come to that.
Bernier would likely fetch more than a second rounder on the trade market, so there’s every reason to move him before free agency even begins. More than one team wants to improve their goaltending, and Bernier is a potential long-term solution in net who comes blessedly free from the baggage of a massive, long-term contract.
The cap crunch this year is making cheap young players more attractive. Though unproven as a #1 full time starter, Bernier has more seasoning and NHL experience than most other goalie prospects around. Because he’s gone through a long process of development on top of playing very well in 2013, scouts think he’s ready for a higher workload.
What trade return could he get?
Trading Bernier now has to be part of the plan. The Kings could use a draft pick, prospect, or cheap roster player a trade would bring. Bernier's been a good, patient teammate and deserves a chance at finally being a #1. The June 30th NHL Entry Draft is approaching, a prime opportunity to nab another pick. I would be shocked if Bernier is still with us on July 5th.
There's already a rumor that Philly would like to get him for 27-year-old RW/LW Matt Read. Though Read’s small frame isn’t that of a typical King, and he’s only got one year left of his contract, that sort of deal would make sense. $6M is coming off the cap. LA’s greatest need is for bargain-price wingers with a scoring touch, especially ones who can play on the left side.
But whether that rumor is true or not, the time to trade Bernier is now. What kind of return would you like to see? Tell us here.