Friday, October 11, 2013

10 Minute Misconduct: Bernier Quickly Winning Goalie Duel

jonathan bernier leafs
Elliotte Friedman publishes 30 Thoughts every Monday and it's something I look forward to reading every week. Friedman sprinkles in great quotes from GMs and executives, covers trade talk in a credible way, and gives a must-read rundown on the pressing issues in hockey.

It's a great format. And I'm going to rip it off completely. In the past I tried my own style of 30 Thoughts, which I called 41 shots. But 41 is a lot of ideas to get in, and I abandoned the format. Well, I've been re-inspired, not only because Friedman's 30 Thoughts are back after a summer hiatus, but also because Maple Leafs Hot Stove's Anthony Petrielli writes what he calls "Too Long for Twitter" on his personal blog, and it's pretty great as well.

But I'm going to be realistic and stick with 10 thoughts. I think I can manage that many. I hope to post what I'm dubbing "10 Minute Misconduct" every Friday and I will (hopefully) stick to that schedule. Although today's post is exclusively about the Leafs, in the future I'll give my thoughts on topics around the league, lest all my posts become "Dave Bolland: pretty great!"

1. Jonathan Bernier has been incredible through the early part of the season. I feel like I need to take a minute and justify my initial disapproval with the trade. First, I didn't so much think he was bad as I thought it was kind of weird to spend assets on an area of strength, especially when other parts of the roster were so lacking (specifically the defence). Signing Mason Raymond for a $1 million makes up for losing Matt Frattin and his cheap contract, and then the trade just becomes Ben Scrivens and a second rounder for a guy with No. 1 upside. Pretty cheap, and I highly doubt the same package could have landed a No. 2 defenceman. Second, I did list Bernier as a good fantasy hockey sleeper and said nice things about him during the Leafs season preview. Please accept this as my apology for doubting Bernier.

2. I like Reimer, and he gets the job done, but Bernier is much calmer in net, making difficult saves look routine. He's much more technically sound and exudes an aura of stability (which I suppose happens when you're sporting a .974 save percentage). Reimer is a battler, and although plenty of goalies (most notably Dominik Hasek) can be just as effective with that style (or non style) it's a stressful style to watch.

3. I still don't think we've seen the last of James Reimer, however. I don't believe for a second that he's going to concede the net quite so easily. Remember, in his NHL career Bernier has yet to make three consecutive starts, and he has a career high of 25 games in a season. So Reimer is going to see some more action, and I fully expect him to play like he's shown he's capable of over his career.

4. The best case scenario this season for the Leafs would be for both goalies to play like No. 1s throughout the season, splitting games or getting into a 60-40 share, and then Dave Nonis would have a valuable asset to shop during the off-season. A No. 1 goalie can be worth a lot. I can think of Calgary and probably Colorado, depending on whether Semyon Varlamov can figure it out, as being two prime candidates for a goalie upgrade, and Edmonton seems perpetually dissatisfied with Devan Dubnyk (a UFA to be). At this point there are a few quality UFA options for teams—Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist, Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak—but those names will hopefully get re-upped, leaving Toronto with all the leverage in negotiations.

5. Speaking of trade rumours, can we please stop talking about Jake Gardiner? Sure, he's still raw defensively in his own end, but his skills are the type you can't teach. He skates incredibly well and neutralizes the forecheck with a quick twist and a turn. He's one of the few positive possession defenders the Leafs own and moving him would be incredibly wasteful. The addition of Morgan Rielly doesn't make Gardiner expendable either. Those are the type of players the Leafs need more of on the backend, not less. A guy like Mark Fraser is good in a limited, bottom-pairing role, but he's entirely dependent on being paired with a better puck mover, like he was with Franson last year.

6. James van Riemsdyk is the gift that keeps on giving. Thank Paul Holmgren for signing such a team-friendly contract (even though it did not look like it at the time) and for ignoring his team's defence long enough that he was desperate for Luke Schenn. JVR is only making $4.25 million for the next four seasons after this one. That's only $50,000 more a season than Tyler Bozak.

7. Paul Ranger has had a tough start to the season, but that's to be expected after being away from the NHL for four years. Really, the fact that he's even back and playing is a pretty incredible story. He's shown flashes that the skill is still there, and if you notice he's got a bit of a mean streak to him, which is definitely an asset amongst a smaller defence group. And you wouldn't expect it, but he's kind of a physical beast out there. With Mark Fraser out for a while the Leafs can't really replace Ranger, so he's going to get some more games to get re-acquainted with the NHL speed, and hopefully by mid-season he's over his early-season hiccups.

8. Dave Bolland has been great so far, and there is plenty of comfort seeing him on the ice when the Leafs are protecting a late lead. I only worry that Randy Carlyle is going to fall so in love with him that his extra ice time comes at the expense of Nazem Kadri. Can't both their ice time come at the expense of Tyler Bozak?

9. The most surprising player so far? Troy Bodie. Before seeing him play I wrongly assumed he was just another face puncher. Instead, he's got plenty of speed and a plays a workmanlike game, and he's already shown a touch more skill than you would expect from a fourth liner. If both he and Carter Ashton are flanking Jay McClement on the fourth line this year that will be a big upgrade over last season's Colton Orr and FML disaster.

10. The big test for the Leafs will be next Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks. So far only two of the Leafs' first five games have been against teams that made the playoffs last season—Montreal and Ottawa—although Colorado is looking like a playoff-calibre team early on. How the Leafs handle the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in a big Saturday night tilt will go a long way to determining whether the Leafs' quick start is for real. In the past these are the types of games bad Leafs teams would get blown out 7-1. Other than the Blackhawks, the only real contender the Leafs face in October is the Penguins on Oct. 26, so the opportunity to bank a lot of important points early exists.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...