Jonesing For Jonathan-Is Bernier The Isles Goalie of the Future?


Uniondale, N.Y.-There’s always something brewing when it comes to the Isles. Garth Snow is constantly working on improving this team. He has one goal in mind every year: build from within and the rest will come later. He has been very reluctant to deal any prospects or picks. But, the team has now reached a critical point in their rebuild. They have gotten over the playoff hump and  are expected to go out and do some damage. As fans, we expect them to be competing for home-ice,  not just the 8th spot.

So, how do they go about that? Well, it all starts in net. Evgeni Nabokov has been a very solid addition to the team. His experience most definitely helped the team make the playoffs this year. But Nabby is soon to be 38 years old. He was more than a little shaky in the playoffs, and the Islanders have to look to the future. They have had patchwork goaltending for too long.

They have Kevin Poulin. Anders Nilsson and Mikko Koskinen in the system. Are any of them ready to grab the reins and be the Isles goalie of the future? That remains to be seen. You don’t know what training camp will bring, but none of the three have really stood out as NHL starter ready.

That means looking at the trade market or going the Unrestricted Free Agent route.  Since nothing amazing stands out in the UFA pool, they are likely to explore trades.  Because of the very deep system they have built, they do have that ability.

Jonathan Quick is the goalie of the present and  future for the Kings. He has a Stanley Cup under his belt, is just 27, and in 286 NHL games he has 2.32 GAA. He’s not going anywhere. So, that leaves Jonathan Bernier to either be a career backup or be used as a trade chip. It’s pretty well known at this point that LA is ready to deal him.

The lefty netminder was selected 11th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2006 draft. He has been a backup for the Kings since he came up in the 2009-10 season. The soon to be 25 year old Bernier is 29-20-6 with a 2.36 GAA in 62 total NHL appearances.

So why all the hype? The Hockey News describes Bernier as having “First-rate and cat-like reflexes. Plays with supreme confidence when tending goal. Can steal a game all on his own, and is also capable of shaking off bad goals.” Although many are very high on him, he does have his drawbacks. He is prone to giving up bad goals and he sometimes lacks consistency.

What It Would Take To Get Him

So, what would it take to get Bernier in Blue & Orange. It would probably start with Nino Niederreiter and then move on to a combo of picks. It may be a first, it may be a second. It may be both. It’s a bit of a stretch at this point because Bernier has never been an NHL starter. So, what teams are willing to give up is based on the hope that he can be a starter. Unfortunately, you just can’t tell. It is just going to be a leap of faith, and if anyone is ready to make a splash, it’s Garth.

Why It Won’t Happen

This all sounds great. Trade one of our young, promising players and a couple of picks and get an NHL-ready goalie. Easy. Done. Not quite. If there  is one thing Garth Snow has shown, it’s that he is not that interested in trading picks or young players for that matter. Since he took over, and the system has been restocked, he has not traded any big pieces aside from Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra & a 1st round pick for Ryan Smyth. That seems like a lifetime ago. In reality, it was 6 years ago.  Nilsson, & O’Marra both flamed out. The pick was #15 overall. The Oilers selected Alex Plante. He has played 10 NHL games, 0 goals. Ryan Smyth? He played in 47 games this season. He had 2 goals.

We realize Garth is not afraid to take chances to improve the team. However, I don’t think that he will part with that much to acquire Bernier. Best bet, according to many NHL sources, is that he lands in Philly. The Flyers, as always, have a need in net and they may be willing to overpay to get him. Based on how much they just gave Mark Streit, I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Other Possibilities

Another name being floated in the trade winds has been Jonas Hiller. This is a very intriguing possibility. The Anaheim Ducks may run into cap issues trying to resign numerous UFA and RFA.  They are going to need cap space and this makes Hiller expendable. In parts of 6 seasons with the Ducks the 31 year old Swiss netminder has amassed a record of 133-97-25 with a solid 2.51 GAA.  Hiller is a quality starter who, if he can put his vertigo problems behind him, can be a very solid backstop for any NHL team.

There are a few things about Hiller that can be attractive to the Islanders:

  • He is a proven starter. He has started more than his fair share of games for the Ducks, including 73 of the 82 games played in the 2011-12 season. They would not have to worry if they did acquire him, because he has started in the NHL before and handled it well. He even earned an all-star appearance in 2010-11.
  • He is still young. Hiller is just 31, and is young enough to be the Isles goalie for the next 5 or 6 years. Garth Snow has already said the Islanders will select a goalie at some point in this year’s draft.  If they do draft an 18 or 19 year old netminder, by the time Hiller’s contract ends that goalie could be ready to start.
  • He won’t cost as much. Jonathan Bernier may just be the next great NHL goalie story. That, we do not know yet. But, the L.A. Kings are going to make sure that, if they trade him, you will pay your fair share and then some.  They don’t have to trade Bernier. They want to, because they can. The Ducks may have to trade Hiller due to salary cap problems. It may only cost the Isles lower draft picks and a fringe prospect, rather than Nino and 1st rounder. What exactly it would cost remains to be seen. But, they may be able to get Bernier and then trade Nino in the future for a possible scorer.

What Happens Next?

The end of the Stanley Cup Finals is close.  The Free Agent/Trading season will soon be upon us. Whether the team stands pat, puts a toe in the water or makes a big splash remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, John Tavares will have a new line-mate. Will he have a new goalie behind him as well?

Stay tuned Isles fans…