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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Killing The Luongo Rumors

In a rather unsurprising move, Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis traded for a goaltender who he feels can be Toronto's starting goaltender. The only thing that was unexpected is that it wasn't Roberto Luongo. Instead, Nonis swapped Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens, and Toronto's second round pick in either the 2014 or 2015 NHL Draft for Los Angeles backup netminder Jonathan Bernier. I'm not sure why Nonis felt this move would strengthen the club, but he now has two young goaltenders who can compete for the starting job. Or, in layman's terms, he has exactly what he had last year minus Matt Frattin and a draft pick.

Look, there was no denying that the Leafs have been kicking tires on starting goaltenders around the league for a while. Nonis and Burke both flirted with the Vancouver Canucks regarding Roberto Luongo, and neither man really said they weren't interested when asked if there was interest in Luongo. But in trading for Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs now have two young goaltenders who will compete for the blue paint this season. While I appreciate competition bringing out the best in both Bernier and Jamer Reimer, the truth is that one will sit more than the other. Neither will publicly say it, but neither will be overly happy in the backup role on the bench.

It's rather hard to believe that in January, Dave Nonis is quoted as saying, "The only issue I would have with our goaltending would be experience. It’s not that they’re not quality goalies." Here we stand today with Reimer having nearly knocked off the Boston Bruins in their series while Jonathan Bernier has virtually zero experience while playing as Jonathan Quick's backup.

On April 20, 2013, Nonis told The National Post's Sean Fitz-Gerald, "Reims always knew — because we were up front with him — that he was never going anywhere. It was always about adding some depth to the organization. He was going to be our goaltender."

So what happened between April 21 and now that has Nonis acquiring a guy who has been outspoken about his desire to be a starting goaltender in the NHL? Why was this move necessary when Reimer and Scrivens were clearly doing more than anyone had in the last decade while tending Toronto's net?

I completely understand the notion that Nonis wanted some depth for the goaltending position when it came to acquiring an older goaltender such as Miikka Kiprusoff from the Flames. Reimer could learn from the veteran goaltender, and the Leafs had a veteran goaltender to rely upon in case Reimer faltered in the playoffs much in the same style that Pittsburgh used Fleury and Vokoun. But getting a guy like Bernier doesn't add depth as much as it adds competition. Again, competition can be good, but what if Bernier loses out to Reimer? Are we going to see the same pouting that was done in Los Angeles when he didn't get the minutes he thought he should be getting?
If Bernier comes in with that attitude, it sounds like he's accepting the challenge of knocking James Reimer out of the starting position. That sentiment was expressed by Nonis at the press conference today when he stated that, "Nothing's being guaranteed to anybody." It sounds like the job is up for grabs as far as Nonis is concerned, and that "I don't think you can be deep enough at that position. We got younger and deeper today and we feel our team is stronger because of it."

While Nonis has yet to reach Reimer, the Leafs officially have a battle for the starting goaltending position already and we haven't even made it to the draft. While Bernier is a restricted free agent right now, it sounds as though the Leafs will sign him, thrusting Reimer and Bernier into a battle for minutes in the blue paint.

Personally, I thought Reimer had done enough in the playoffs to have the starting goaltender title given to him, but Dave Nonis clearly had other ideas about the position as a whole in shipping out Scrivens for Bernier. While I can't see Bernier complaining about his role in Toronto - either starting or backing up Reimer - because there will be opportunities for increased minutes as compared to what he had in Los Angeles, Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis will have actively manage the minutes both are playing to keep both happy. I'm not saying Bernier's apt to rock the boat in Toronto, but he certainly was vocal about his lack of playing time behind one of the planet's best netminders.

In other news surrounding the goaltending carousel that appears to be starting up, the Minnesota Wild are reportedly exploring the market by asking about Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. With Niklas Backstrom expected to ask for an increase to his $6 million cap hit in St. Paul, it appears Wild GM Chuck Fletcher might be looking at less expensive options. While Fleury was given a vote of confidence by Penguins GM Ray Shero as next year's starting goaltender, you have to wonder if Shero would consider trading Fleury after failing yet again in the spring. The Wild have a plethora of prospects, and the Penguins gave up a pile of prospects and picks at the deadline to stock their roster. With Vokoun signed for another season, Shero has a stop-gap to ensure that one of Jeff Zatkoff or Brad Thiessen is ready to make the next step. There are also a number of goaltenders on the free agent market that could fill in Fleury's locker nicely. Mike Smith and Ray Emery are both UFAs this summer, and there could be a nice pay day for, say, Smith if he were to don Penguins colors.

In any case, the idea of trading Fleury may not be a popular one, but it could rid Pittsburgh of a problem that has plagued their playoff runs over the last few years. And then he becomes Minnesota's playoff problem.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Dr. Pete said...

The M-A Fleury trade rumor is an interesting one, and given his recent struggles in the playoffs, it does sound natural. However, Minnesota is as much of a pressure cooker as Pittsburgh, but the change in scenery could do him some good.