The NHL trade market began to heat up Sunday afternoon when the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired goalie Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for winger Matt Frattin, goalie Ben Scrivens, Toronto’s second-round draft pick in either 2014 or 2015 and $500,000 in salary cap space. In the instant-reaction world of social media, many Leafs supporters quickly rushed to rip the deal, lamenting both the price Leafs GM Dave Nonis paid for Bernier as well as the effect it would have on last season’s starting goalie, James Reimer.
However, I’m nowhere near convinced it’s time for Leafs fans to sound the air horns, duck for cover and declare this move a bomb. As a matter of fact, I think the deal has the potential to be excellent for Toronto and decent enough for the Kings. I also think that, in a flooded goaltender market, Los Angeles took the best deal they were going to get – and what the Leafs gave them isn’t likely to be all that big a haul when it’s all said and done.
Of course, this is the part where I issue the standard disclaimer for all trades: we won’t know which team ultimately won the trade until years from now, so everybody relax already. All we’re doing here is looking at possibilities.
Let’s do that with this transaction: is there a possibility Matt Frattin blossoms into a second-line player with L.A.? Sure. Is there a chance the player the Kings take with Toronto’s second-rounder turns into an above-average NHLer? You bet. However, is there also a chance Bernier takes an opportunity to run with the No. 1 job and uses it to realize the potential that made him the 11th overall pick in 2006? Absolutely. And there’s just as much of a chance Frattin remains a third-or-fourth-liner, Scrivens stays a backup and the second-rounder doesn’t pan out.
If the latter two situations come to pass, those running around like the sky is falling are going to regret not showing some patience and reserving judgment. It’s very possible Bernier (who posted a 9-3-1 record, 1.88 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in L.A. in 2012-13) will prove himself worthy of the starter’s role. You could easily look at the trade as putting the Leafs in the same position they were last year – with two goalies fighting it out to establish themselves as the clear No. 1 – only with a more appealing ‘B’ option in the 24-year-old Bernier. You could look at it as Bernier being there to push Reimer to perform even better.
Now, some will say Reimer no longer has anything to prove, that bringing in Bernier has the potential to undermine the former’s confidence and take the entire team back a step with him. Again, there’s a chance that’s true – if you believe Reimer is that mentally weak and not up to the challenge. I think he is. I agree that this trade was Toronto dealing to address a position of relative strength, but if you can make a strong position stronger without giving away the farm to do so, why wouldn’t you? If you wind up with Bernier taking the starter’s job and Reimer still playing very well, don’t you then have a trade asset in the years to come?
This is no disrespect to any former Leafs who are now Kings. Frattin was never a favorite of Randy Carlyle and struggled with consistency. On a deep Kings team, he has the potential to be a very good third-liner who can use his speed to kill penalties and score 15-20 goals a year. Scrivens is a fantastic team guy who can be a productive backup.
But remember some of those trade rumors we heard Bernier linked to? As in, Bernier to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek? In the end, the Kings got far less than that.
This trade, like all trades, is a calculated gamble. The Leafs are gambling they’ve found a real gem who got squeezed in L.A. by Jonathan Quick’s 10-year contract extension and only had to give up a backup goalie and a player who wasn’t a favorite of their coach. The Kings are gambling that addressing a number of areas (including their cap outlook) is the best return they could get in a limited market.
We won’t find out who was correct in their gamble for a while. Which is why it makes little sense to pronounce it a FEMA-worthy disaster today.
Editor's Note: Bernier's stats for this past season were corrected.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.