The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are certainly free to hope that an extended offseason will somehow dissolve goalie Jonathan Bernier’s desire for a trade that nabbed headlines early this past summer.
Or they can brainstorm a backup plan (no pun intended) in case, after the NHL resumes normal business, Bernier rekindles trade interest and stokes it to the point where it is too impractical to sustain him in the Kings' dressing room.
Three options, each of a different variety, come readily to mind.
There is one homegrown candidate, one hypothetical import who would come at no cost beyond a cap hit and another one that would require something in return.
The 22-year-old Martin Jones, currently in his third season as the Manchester Monarchs' starter, could be ready after a full or partial AHL campaign with a generous sprinkling of NHL-caliber talent shooting at him. Regardless of what course the Kings take with him, he may inevitably be Jonathan Quick’s backup at some point within the next two seasons anyway.
With that said, it would be wiser to give Jones a sprinkling of full-fledged, authentic NHL game experience in the next season, whether that is in 2012-13 or 2013-14.
He has yet to dress for a single meaningful contest with the Kings. Therefore, he will be a masked man of mystery if he is promptly thrust into a role where he would be expected to assume roughly one-quarter of a regular-season workload—even in a shorter season.
All of this is to say nothing of what would happen if L.A. suddenly went with a Quick-Jones tandem, even in a shortened season, and its Conn Smythe winner were to endure a prolonged injury.
If Bernier cannot stick around to spell Quick when needed while Jones is phased in, the Kings can seek a short-term partnership with a veteran journeyman. Right now, capgeek.com has seven netminders listed as unrestricted free agents, including the relatively seasoned Ty Conklin, John Grahame and Marty Turco.
However, the best bet would be 35-year-old Brent Johnson, who was last seen backing Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh, but will have no place there anymore now that the Penguins have nabbed Tomas Vokoun.
Unlike Conklin, Grahame and Turco, Johnson has played in no league but the NHL for each of the past four seasons. And even though he finished 2011-12 with an egregious 3.11 goals-against average and .883 save percentage, that can be blamed in no small part on Pittsburgh’s uncharacteristically discombobulated defensive unit before him.
Naturally, the rest of Johnson’s appeal comes from the fact that the reigning champs will not need to surrender any of their pieces, all of whom are currently slated to return, to acquire him.
The same cannot be said about their third option, though it might still be a necessary pursuit. If Bernier is traded, any compensation the Kings receive might offset their sacrifices for a new backup.
Given that incumbent starter Jose Theodore is under contract and as effective as ever while promising prospect Jacob Markstrom is on the rise, the Florida Panthers may have a spare goalie in Scott Clemmensen.
In the event of a Bernier trade, the Kings could make a point of asking for the same sorts of skaters that the Panthers would likely demand as compensation for Clemmensen. General manager Dean Lombardi could even try to make it a three-party deal, with Clemmensen coming to Los Angeles, the Panthers receiving at least one player from the other team involved and that third team claiming Bernier.
With Johnson, a one-year deal to help give Quick sufficient rest and bridge Jones into full-time duty ought to be perfectly doable. With the 35-year-old Clemmensen, who currently has two years yet to come on his pact with the Panthers, complications could arise by 2013-14, as L.A. would likely need to find a buyer in the offseason as it tries to export him and install Jones full-time.
Ensuring that Bernier sticks around through the remainder of his contract, which is slated to expire in summer 2013, is certainly the most ideal scenario for the Kings. But if that is not to be, then a plan to nab Johnson should be Plan B while mapping a deal for Clemmensen should be Plan C.