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Jonathan Bernier and the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t just apart on their arbitration ask price. They’re way far apart, as in Toronto has completely lowballed Bernier, asking for a one-year $2.89 million award per TSN.
That’s the lowest the Leafs could go on the 26-year-old restricted free agent netminder. Last year he carried a $2.9 million salary cap hit and made $3.4 million in real dollars in the last season of a two-year deal. Bernier asked for $5.1 million.
The Maple Leafs filed for arbitration on Bernier, which probably means Toronto believed it had more leverage in an arbitration hearing than the goaltender. The hearing itself is set for Friday.
Via the Toronto Sun:
“There is no chance the arbitrator will award Bernier less than the real dollars he made last year, which was $3.4 million, so the real gap is $3.4 million to $5.1 million,” said sports lawyer Elliot Saccucci. “I still expect an award of between $4.4 million to $4.6 million.
Granted teams, tend to go low on arb asks but if I was Bernier I would be like, ‘huh’ after seeing that. Overall this smells of new Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello with his ‘my way or the highway’ approach to managing.
In some ways, the Bernier negotiations can send a message to Maple Leafs players on how contracts will be managed moving forward. Lamoriello is a big culture guy, and he embodies the ‘nobody is bigger than the crest’ mentality, that worked well for New Jersey for a number of years, before it kind of went off the rails the last few seasons.
If old GM Dave Nonis was fond of Bernier and maybe wanted to lavish him with a big deal, Lou will look at what the goaltender has done for him lately and adjust accordingly.
The Leafs' strategy here is clear: they want to transfer as much contract risk to Bernier as possible and believe they have maximum bargaining power to do this now and very little to lose by forcing arbitration.
Bernier's performance last season declined noticeably. He does not have a long NHL career track record so the Leafs are stuck with the question of whether last season was a blip, either caused by playing in front of a team that was defensively terrible, or because he is really not an above-average goalie.
Since his trade to Toronto from Los Angeles before the 2013-14 season, Bernier has seen his numbers decline from a 2.68 goals against average and .923 save percentage in 55 games his first year to a 2.87 goals against average and .912 save percentage in 58 games last season.
He was a first-round draft pick by Los Angeles in 2006, so he does carry that potential. His last year in L.A. he had a 1.88 goals against average and .922 save percentage – though that was just in 14 games played.
But Lamoriello isn’t the type of general manager who will give a guy a big contract solely based on potential. He also won’t reward a player simply because the guy is his best option at the time like former Leafs management. How many years does Dion Pheneuf have left on his deal? Ah yes, enjoy him through 2021 Leafs fans.
Especially in Bernier’s case, it seems the goaltender is going to have to work for a more coveted contract. That’s Lou’s way – and in this case it’s probably the right way.
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