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  • Kings seeking fit for Bernier? Print
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    Written by Andrew Knoll   
    Friday, 20 July 2012 14:10

    Finding minutes behind Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick has not been easy for Jonathan Bernier. Now, the Los Angeles Kings find themselves in similar discomfort as they seek the right fit in a trade partner for Bernier.

    What was once considered by some an inevitable goaltending controversy has been decided for at least two seasons. Now, Bernier and the Kings are approaching an impasse with his contract expiring at season’s end, just as Quick’s lucrative 10-year extension kicks in.

    Bernier has been disappointed with his playing time, dating back to three seasons ago when Erik Ersberg was the Kings’ backup, relegating Bernier to a superb season in the AHL. Last season, his playing time was reduced from 25 starts to 16, which also came on an infrequent basis and led him to ask for a trade at the deadline. He further the discussed the prospects of being dealt with a Quebec newspaper last week during his day with the Cup.

    Looking around the league, there are a number of teams who do not have a solidified goalie situation at the moment and/or in the immediate future. Still, a look at the stronger possibilities will demonstrate mixed prospects for getting a solid deal for the aspiring starter Bernier. While there is still a market for goaltending and a player like Bernier is more attractive as a long-run project than a short-term rental, there remains no obvious choice for a trade partner.

    Columbus Blue Jackets

    The Jackets were widely speculated to be in the mix for Bernier at the 2012 trade deadline but the absence of a reliable backup made the Kings reluctant to deal Bernier. Columbus GM Scott Howson did not respond to an inquiry about his interest in Bernier at the Draft but has reportedly been kicking Bernier’s tires of late. That comes despite his investment of draft picks in both a pair of goaltending prospects and in a trade for Philadelphia’s Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus appears inclined to diversify its holdings in net in the hopes of gleaning a starter from the pile. They may also seek to jettison the final year of failed starter Steve Mason in the deal, giving the former Vezina nominee a fresh start. Columbus lacks prospect depth at the moment but possesses picks, including the Kings’ 2013 first rounder.

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    The Bolts also made a deal leading up to the draft then a significant investment in a goaltender on draft day. They signed former first-rounder Riku Helenius, dealt for Nashville’s Anders Lindback and then selected Andrei Vasilevski 19th overall, making him the first goaltender taken. Of Bernier’s clearest potential suitors, that group may give Tampa the most organizational depth in net and the weakest impetus to make a deal. Still, Bernier would add another intriguing net-minder to their mix and they have arguably the most flexibility to make a deal with a roster player for Bernier. At this point, the Kings have every player from their Stanley Cup champion roster under contract, so they may look to restock a partially depleted minor league system instead.

    Florida Panthers

    Relative to Bobrovsky and Lindback, it could be argued that Bernier has had the strongest pedigree and perhaps also the strongest performance to date. If they commanded multiple picks, Bernier could command slightly higher return despite the lack of an easy fit. Yet in Florida’s case, it already has a prospect of a similar caliber in Jacob Markstrom, who appears healthy and ready for a shot at the No. 1 gig. The Panthers have a veteran under contract for one more season in Jose Theodore and an impressive array of prospects at other positions. They might be an outstanding trade partner for the Kings in terms of the assets they could offer. Still, it remains to be seen if the Southeast Division champion Panthers want to roll with a platoon of inexperienced goalies or if they consider Bernier any sort of upgrade over Markstrom.

    Chicago Blackhawks

    The Hawks have veered toward smaller moves this offseason for the most part as they seek to solidify and deepen their defense corps while keeping an eye on other opportunities. Yet one could argue that in a skintight series with eventual conference finalist Phoenix last season, weak goaltending cost them a pair of overtime contests. In general, Chicago has not had consistent goaltending since the departure of Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi to San Jose. Backup Ray Emery’s workload has been limited by injuries and mixed form since his comeback from serious hip surgery. Bernier would create serious competition with Crawford. The Blackhawks could benefit from such a situation and there are limited options on the market outside of the exorbitantly priced Roberto Luongo. Still, it remains to be seen how much the Hawks would be willing to invest in Bernier.

    New Jersey Devils

    While Kings GM Dean Lombardi established a relationship with Columbus’ Howson in a recent trade, he has a long-standing one with Lou Lamoriello of New Jersey. The Devils also have a pair of goalies with advanced age, with Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg being nearly a combined 80 years of age. Still, both just re-signed for two more seasons, creating an uncomfortable situation for Bernier, who clearly yearns to be a starter. Even if the Devils were to send Hedberg the other way, Bernier would find himself in what would be, at best, a 1B role and likely for the next two seasons. The Devils will likely take a more tempered approach to developing Brodeur’s successor, despite the utility for Bernier under different circumstances where they had not committed to their veteran tandem.

    Toronto Maple Leafs

    While the Maple Leafs remain affixed to every Luongo rumor, Brian Burke has fancied deals for developing starters in the past and appears to be eyeing Bernier. Burke hinted that he wanted a more established commodity between the pipes, as the organization had several younger goalies that were not yet proven starters. Yet multiple reports out of Toronto now have Burke making a run at Bernier. With a young nucleus, a clear need in net and their alternative being the dauntingly large sum of money owed to Luongo, the Leafs may just be the strongest possibility for L.A. to accommodate Bernier’s trade request and receive solid value in return. An advanced prospect picks or some combination thereof would likely be on the Kings' wish list looking at the Leafs' organizational depth. 

    Photos by Getty Images

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