Jonathan Bernier Is a “Keeper” for the Red Wings

Goalies have a way of hogging the spotlight. They are either blamed for a team’s losses, or they are applauded for outright stealing victories. A team’s record is often at the mercy of the ups and downs of their top goalie’s season.

In Detroit, the Red Wings are uniquely terrible this season. Yet as this wound of a season continues to fester, the Red Wings and their fans find themselves witnessing a defiant performance from what was supposed to be the team’s backup goalie this season. Simply put: 31-year-old Jonathan Bernier has been playing out of his mind since the New Year.

Since the month of December, Bernier has an unbelievable save-percentage (SV%) of .929 – a period of time that includes 15 games, and a grand total of 449 shots faced. Among goalies in the NHL to play at least 30 games so far this season, Bernier sits fifth in the league in goals saved above average (GSAA) with a mark of 5.03. Despite a porous defense in front of him, Bernier is keeping his team in games they shouldn’t be in.

Implications For the Future?

When a player is playing as well as Bernier is on a rebuilding team, the buzzards are going to circle. If another team comes knocking looking to acquire Bernier’s services, general manager Steve Yzerman is going to hear them out. The team needs to accumulate future assets, so nothing is off the table.

Jonathan Bernier - Red Wings
Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings – Dec. 18, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, the Red Wings will still need someone in net next season. Bernier has another year on his deal at a reasonable cap hit of $3 million. Bernier represents a familiar face in the locker room who won’t restrict the team due to a high cap number. Plus, if the goalie of the future is in the system already, they’re going to need a mentor to guide them through the NHL. Bernier, a former first-round pick, surely has plenty to offer to a young, up and coming goalie.

It is likely longtime starter Jimmy Howard’s final season with the team. It would offer Yzerman and the Red Wings peace of mind to know they’ve got someone at the goaltender position capable of delivering quality starts while the team continues to grow together.

Do it Again?

Historically speaking, Bernier has found the most success in his career when he’s been used as part of a tandem. Even when he was the de-facto starter for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2013 to 2016, he never played more than 58 games. There should be some concern when it comes to predicting Bernier’s potential performance as the go-to guy for the Red Wings beyond this season.

While the Red Wings aren’t necessarily worried about winning games right now, they are concerned with promoting an environment conducive to player growth. As it stands, there aren’t any prospects ready to seize the crease. It would behoove the team to add another capable goalie to the ranks, either through a trade or through free agency.

Detroit Red Wings Jonathan Bernier New York Islanders Leo Komarov
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier stops a shot as New York Islanders right wing Leo Komarov looks for the rebound (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

That being said, the Red Wings surely recognize that they’ve got a capable guy to man the crease in the meantime. When former general manager Ken Holland signed Bernier to his current deal, the third year was probably very important for both the team and the player. With his play this season, he has more than earned the opportunity to see his contract through with the Red Wings.

He’s not the long-term solution many hope for, but he’s a fine short-term solution. While the organization searches for the heir to the position, the home team’s crease at Little Caesars Arena should belong to Bernier.

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