After Jonathan Quick agreed to a 10-year, $58 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings in late June, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the team would part ways with Jonathan Bernier. And yet, with less than two weeks to go until the 2013 NHL trade deadline, Bernier remains with the Kings.
Speculation will likely continue to grow around Bernier, as it will around veterans like Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr.
In order to build for the future, it's probably a good move for the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars to trade their future Hall of Fame players. For the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings on the other hand, it may be in their best interest to hold on to their 24-year-old backup goalie for the rest of the season.
Bernier has made the most of every opportunity he’s been given this season, showing that he can indeed become a starter in the near future. Quick, meanwhile, has not been at his best. The Conn Smythe Trophy winner had back surgery in the offseason, which may have played a role in his early-season struggles.
Bernier is 7-2-0, with a GAA of 1.94 and a save percentage of .923.
Quick is 10-10-3 with a GAA of 2.47 and a save percentage of .897.
Quick has been better of late, but has yet to show he can consistently perform at a high level and steal games like he did last year.
And, like last year, the Kings aren’t able to rely on their offense alone to win games. If they want to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, they’re going to need great defense and dominant goaltending.
The safety net Bernier provides in that respect cannot be overlooked.
Should Quick play poorly or sustain an injury in the latter part of the season or playoffs, the Kings can rest easy knowing Bernier is ready to step in. It’s similar to the situation with Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, as the Kings’ players have shown they're confident and comfortable playing in front of either netminder.
Should they trade Bernier the Kings do not have a goaltending prospect in their system that is ready to step onto the big stage. And, should they get a goaltender via trade, he likely won’t be anywhere near as good as Bernier.
On top of that, this season is condensed, meaning backup goaltenders are even more important (just ask the New Jersey Devils). Normally a team could rely on its starter to play a huge bulk of games down the stretch. But, with a schedule filled with back-to-back games and three in four nights, starters need more time off.
With the Kings tied for sixth in the Western Conference and 12 points back of the Anaheim Ducks for the division lead, they’re going to need solid goaltending as they fight for positioning toward the end of the season.
Looking at the long-term picture, holding on to Bernier may have its advantages as well, as he is set to become a restricted free-agent rather than unrestricted.
His trade value has increased with his strong play this year and should rise even more as the season progresses. Also, because of the shortened season many teams are still in contention for a playoff spot, meaning the trade market is a little different than usual. Not as many teams will be willing to part ways with players that they feel could help them secure a playoff spot.
Plus, Dean Lombardi could get a huge return by trading Bernier’s rights in the offseason. Remember the Anders Lindback trade last summer?
Given that Bernier is a better goalie and the large number of teams that will be desperate for a netminder, the Kings should get great players, draft picks or both in return.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup with almost this exact lineup last year, meaning they shouldn’t need to add a player like Jagr or Iginla to hoist the cup again this year. However, if they were to lose Quick for a significant period of time and not have Bernier, their chances of repeating would be slim to none.
It’s much easier to replace an injured forward or defenseman during a playoff run than it is a goaltender.
Of course, a lot can change in the days leading up to the April 3 deadline. But, at this point in time, trading Bernier in the offseason seems like the most favorable option for the Kings.