As the Roberto Luongo saga continues, it appears as if GM of the Leafs, Brian Burke may need to look elsewhere if he hopes to improve the long struggling goaltending situation in Toronto.
Yesterday a report surfaced that Luongo would not waive his no-trade clause to accept a trade to the Maple Leafs or the Chicago Blackhawks (TERRY KOSHAN,TORONTO SUN). Before this report evolved yesterday, it seemed as if it was a foregone conclusion that Luongo and the leafs would team up to make the perfect match. However, when looking at the current state of the Leafs and the other marquee goaltender on the market, King's Jonathon Bernier, the Leafs may be wise to take a pass on Luongo and pursue the Kings backup goaltender.
Lets look at the facts here. The Leafs, failing to make the Playoffs in the past 7 seasons are currently 12 million dollars below the cap (cap geek). If they were to go after Luongo, they would add $5.3 million to their current cap and would have around $6 million dollars to improve their roster via trade and free agency. The leafs, even with their recent addition of young power forward James van Riemsdyke have multiple holes to fill including, a top 4 defensmen, a number one centre and perhaps a grinder or scoring winger on their 2nd or 3rd line. After losing Schenn, it becomes essential that the leafs do everything possible to go after young coveted free agent defensmen, Justin Schultz. The price required for Schultz, will surely be north of $3 million dollars and the money required to add a number one centre, one name mentioned in rumors, Paul Stastny from the avalanche, would be around $6 million. Those are only two expensive holes that need to be filled and with those possible acquisitions the leafs would be flirting with the maximum salary payroll.
Now enter Jonathon Bernier. If the leafs were to move past the idea of trading for Luongo, they could save themselves some major cap space and entertain the idea of trading for a future franchise netminder who has yet to hit his ceiling. There is no questioning Bernier's potential. He was an 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft, stood as one the Kings best prospects until he was called on to be the back up recently and has posted tremendous numbers during his tenrue with the Kings affiliate club, the Manchester Monarchs (hockeysfuture). In addition to these high credentials, Bernier had the privilege of backing up the Kings star goalie Jonathon Quick during LA's recent cup run. One has to think that Bernier picked up some valuable lessons during his time at practice working with Quick.
To trade for Bernier the Leafs may need to give up a little more than Luongo, but that is not even hundred percent true at the moment. It has been reported repeatedly that Vancouver Canucks GM, Mike Gillis is asking for a very large return for Luongo. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported that Gillis wanted Florida's best prospect (Erik Gudbranson), a scoring forward and a 1st round draft pick. One would thing that Bernier at most would require a top prospect and 2nd or 3rd round pick. The leafs have added many prospects over the last few years and can certainly afford to part ways with next years 2nd or 3rd round picks if it means getting a potential franchise goaltender.
Now, the risk of trading for an unproven goalie like Bernier, is that the leafs don't have a veteran goalie to stabilize the position, something that has plagued the team ever since the lockout. Luongo would automatically do this, but by adding Luongo the Leafs would be compromising other positions as they wouldn't have enough cap space to fill important holes that would put them in line to become one of the NHLs top teams. The Leafs need to start thinking for the future if they want to have a real shot at winning the cup, and if they can snag Bernier they would give themselves one of the best young NHL ready goalie prospects in the league in addition to saving enough cap space in order to fill other holes. If the Leafs could find a reasonable price for Bernier, he would undoubtedly become the franchises' number one goalie and then Burke can give the struggling James Reimer some time to develop in the minors, while giving the back up duties to Marlies star Ben Scrivens. Scrivens showed some flashes over the past season with the Marlies and appears mature enough to handle the role of a backup goalie. If Bernier were to pan out then great, you have a 23 year old goalie who will stabilize the position for years to come. If not, then the Leafs can turn to Reimer or Scrivens and hope that they develop to the point where they can handle the pressure of being the leafs number one goalie. Worst case scenario, no one pans out and the leafs will either tank for a few years and add more prospects or the Leafs can trade or sign for a veteran goalie who seem to be available every offseason.
The Leafs should be in no rush to trade for an expensive goalie who is in the twilight of his career. They are not ready to compete for a Stanley Cup at the moment and all Luongo would do is make the team better in the short term without significantly improving the team, to the point where they can become a perennial Stanley Cup contender. Bernier is no sure thing, but he offers way more potential and if he pans out, which seems more likely than not, than the leafs have found their long coveted franchise goalie and have given themselves the opportunity to fill other holes to give this team a chance to become a power house in the near future.