On Wednesday the Toronto Maple Leafs asked an arbitrator to award Jonathan Bernier the absolute minimum amount money they possibly could (85% of his salary the previous season, coming out to $2.89 million). In return Bernier asked for $5.1 million. The difference is substantial, to say the least. The question then is how much is Bernier worth?
A Look at the Numbers
Since the start of the 2012 season Jonathan Bernier has maintained a very respectable .927 even-strength save percentage (EvSv%), good for 16 in the league among goalies with a minimum 2000 minutes played. The problem is that he has come about that number through very different seasons, leading fans to wonder just what caliber of goalie is he?
For the purposes of this article I’m not going to focus very much on the numbers Bernier put up during his time in LA. They’re a very strong defensive team, and we’ve seen a number of backups post very good numbers there. Instead I want to focus on his time in Toronto, discover who he’s comparable to, propose a dollar figure I think he deserves.
Over his two seasons in Toronto, Bernier registered a .927 EvSv% and a .934 adjusted EvSv%, sandwiching him between the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jonathan Quick. They’re the kind of numbers you hope the arbitrator looks at, if your Bernier’s agent, but the drop in production this past season is concerning. Bernier saw his EvSv% drop by .0084% from .9302 to .9218 (for context league average is about .920), and his adjusted save percentage took a hit as well, falling .0076%. it’s the final number here that should worry fans. If Bernier saw his EsSv% fall but his adj-EvSv% remain the same it could be explained that he was facing tougher shots, but instead we are left with a goalie who simply had a down year, and is now has to argue that he is not the goalie we just saw, but rather the one from 2013. If there’s one thing that works in Bernier’s favour it’s that his high-danger save percentage (saves on shots that have the highest likelihood of going in the net) hasn’t changed much over the past three years. In fact it slightly improved this past season. Shockingly it seems to be his low-danger save percentage that took the hardest hit this past season falling from .982% to .967%. Considering that is the second lowest (excluding a 4 game stint in 07-08) it has ever been, it shouldn’t be something for fans, or management to be overly worried about.
As a whole these numbers tell us that even if Bernier is not the goalie we saw two years ago he is still an above average goaltender. The next step then is finding out just where he fits in with the rest of the NHL.
Peas in a Pod
Looking at who posted a similar EvSv% and adj-EvSv% as Bernier last season we can see that the goalies most similar to him were Jaroslav Halak, Ben Bishop, Antti Niemi, Kari Lehtonen and Semyon Varlamov, and what’s nice is that we get a variety of ages, but two of them, Bishop and Varlamov, are quite close to Bernier. Both Varlamov and Bishop will be making $5.9 million dollars next year (Bishop actually makes $5.95 million) and they aren’t alone there. Kari Lehtonen joins that club as well. The difference then between Bernier and those goaltenders is that they have a little more pedigree, Varlamov was a Vezina finalist, and Bishop was just in the Stanley Cup final. That said Bernier asking for that kind of money, when he has shown he is a similar goaltender, isn’t outrageous. Interestingly it’s the remaining two names, Niemi, and Halak that are most likely going to be closer to what Bernier will get. Both men are making $4.5 million a year and all though this is surely more than the Leafs would like to pay it seems to be the going rate, or close to it, for goalies of their caliber.
So What’s the Number?
Knowing then what kind of goalie Bernier is, and who he is similar to, I think it would be a steal for the Leafs to get him at their desired price. I think it’s more likely that Bernier gets closer to $4 million on a “show up or shut up” kind of deal. He’s shown Leafs management that he can do it before, and this is the kind of deal that will make him do it again. One that will hopefully show us exactly what to expect of Jonathan Bernier, and make for easier contract negotiations in the future.