For all those Maple Leafs fans who weren’t quite sure what to make of Sunday’s big trade, consider this message from the man who was worked most closely with Jonathan Bernier the past several years.
'He’s the real deal," Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford told ESPN.com Sunday. "He’s really highly regarded by us. He’s not only a great goalie but he’s a great person. They’re going to love him there."
I can tell you that for GM Dean Lombardi and the rest of the Kings' front office, this was a tough pill to swallow. They feel they’re trading away a future star, franchise goalie. But they had to. You can’t keep two star goalies in a cap system, not with the cap going down next season and the Kings needing to re-up Slava Voynov (done) and Rob Scuderi (not done yet) and other RFAs.
And there was a promise to keep. Lombardi, true to his word, told Bernier a year ago that he’d deal him either at the trade deadline or before the draft, a promise he reiterated at the player-exit meetings a few weeks ago, providing he could find a deal that made sense for the Kings.
"I was very happy, Dean is a man of his word," Bernier told ESPN.com Sunday after the trade was announced. "I felt he would keep it and he did. All the teams in the mix were great teams but I have to tell you I’m so happy it’s Toronto. It’s a great organization."
Philadelphia, Minnesota, Florida and the New York Islanders were also believed to be in the mix at varying degrees over the past week. The Flyers, a source told ESPN.com, pushed hard for Bernier with Matt Read the key asset being dangled.
But in the end, the Toronto deal -- forward Matt Frattin, goalie Ben Scrivens and a second-rounder in 2014 or 2015 -- made the most sense, especially when the Leafs agreed to retain $500,000 in salary in the trade, cap space that the Kings dearly need (see Scuderi, above) plus RFAs that need new deals in Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Kyle Clifford, Alex Martinez and Jake Muzzin. Bernier's agent, Pat Brisson, told ESPN.com Sunday that he expected to begin talks on a new contract for the goalie -- who is also an RFA -- over the next few days
That $500,000 component was a major part of this deal.
Getting a backup goalie in the deal in Scrivens was also important: It means Lombardi doesn’t have to go out on the market and find one, an option that likely would have cost a higher salary than the $612,500 Scrivens makes. Frattin has the talent to be a decent second-line player and at $925,000 he’s relatively cheap, too.
But in the end, the Leafs get the best asset in the trade and the Kings know that all too well.
Lombardi fretted about this deal for two years but finally felt it was time. He did well in getting the haul he did.
For Ranford, who had done wonderful work with both Jonathan Quick and Bernier, he feels almost like he’s losing his own kid.
"I’ve know him since he was 17. Yes, it does feel like I’m losing a son," said Ranford.
Like the Kings, I’m extremely high on Bernier. I think he’s got star No. 1 written all over him. He’ll have to fight for his starts with James Reimer, but that’s a healthy competition. The Leafs’ front office was just never totally comfortable giving the keys to the kingdom solely to Reimer. Now they feel they’ve doubled their bets.
A good gamble, Ranford said.
"I don’t think he’s any different than Quickie, I think he can prove to a lot of people that he’s a legitimate No. 1 goalie for a long time in this league," said Ranford. "He’s a very fit individual, he’s very passionate about this position. The one thing about his game is that there’s not a lot of maintenance that needs to be done to his game. It’s just little tweaks here and there throughout the season. He’s just a real quality guy and teammate and he wants to be a No. 1, and that’s the big thing."
Bernier really opened eyes this season when he stepped in some for important games while Quick got his act together.
"It’s hard to say, but in lot of our minds, if it wasn’t for Jo (Bernier), we would have maybe had a tough time making the playoffs," said Ranford. "There would have been a bigger push (needed) down the stretch if it wasn’t for the way he played."
So, what now in the wake of the Bernier trade? A few thoughts:
• The Leafs aren’t done shopping. They still want a top-four defenseman and a young, top center. The latter might prove more difficult to come by.
• Toronto’s acquisition of Bernier will finally put an official end to the Roberto Luongo trade rumors that began year ago at the June draft in Pittsburgh when Vancouver and Toronto began their discussions, talks that heated up before the April 3 trade deadline before falling apart. Luongo will hopefully find a new home, but it won’t be in Toronto.
• Minnesota and Philadelphia must now decide what to do next. The Wild were interested in Bernier because they didn’t know if they could re-sign pending UFA goalie Niklas Backstrom. The Flyers were willing to buy out Ilya Bryzgalov if they would get their hands on Bernier. Do they still buy him out?
Questions which will get answers soon enough. Brace yourself folks, the silly season is just starting.