Is Jonathan Bernier Ready for the Pressure Cooker in Toronto?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 02:  Goaltender Jonathan Bernier #45 of the Los Angeles Kings makes a save in the third period of Game Two of the Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on June 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Kings 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jonathan Bernier should be enjoying his last days of a relatively peaceful existence.

As soon as training camp opens for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Bernier will soon learn about life in the fish bowl. And all eyes will be staring at Bernier, as he makes his claim to be the Leafs' No. 1 goalie.

It may not be a done deal, as he will have to beat out James Reimer, who did a relatively good job last year. However, while Reimer was improved in 2013, he was in goal for the Leafs' seventh-game, third-period collapse against the Boston Bruins.

Reimer made the history books with his performance there, but it's on the wrong side of history.

Even if Reimer had managed to hold off the Bruins, there's nothing to suggest that he's going to be a solid starting goalie for the most valuable and popular franchise in the NHL, according to Forbes Magazine. On the other hand, Bernier, 25, has been recognized as the best second-string goalie in the game for some time and now that he's out of Los Angeles, he no longer has to back up Jonathan Quick.

Bernier's numbers were stellar last year, and they have been solid throughout his career. Bernier had a 1.88 goals against average and a .922 save percentage with one shutout in 2013. He had a 9-3-1 record and his appearances in the net had an air of unflappability to them.

While nearly all of his performances were good last year, he stopped 40 of 42 shots against the Phoenix Coyotes last March 19 in a game where the Kings were severely outplayed. Bernier's spectacular play allowed the Kings to come away with a 3-2 win.

Bernier describes himself as a hybrid goalie. He will go down in the butterfly to stop low shots, but he will stay on his feet so he can glove the high ones. It's a style that was taught to him by Benoit Allaire, a longtime goalie coach who is noted for his work with Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.

Bernier has to win the job and he will get stiff competition from Reimer, who finished last season with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage along with four shutouts.

While the numbers say the two could have a relatively close competition, Bernier is scheduled to earn $2.9 million next season. Reimer will earn $1.8 million. Having Bernier's salary on the bench would not make much sense for the Leafs, who traded forward Matt Frattin, goalie Ben Scrivens and a future second-round draft pick to get him.

Toronto general manager Dave Nonis not only needs Bernier not ony to come away with the starting job, but he wants to see him perform at an elite level.

Some of the league's best goalies have stepped up from solid backup to elite No. 1 in recent years. Those goalies include Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider and Craig Anderson.

While making the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season was good for the franchise, a one-and-done performance will not be acceptable this time around. Nonis knows his team's fan base has high expectations and has little patience left.

Bernier has yet to play with his new teammates, but he has said that he sees many similarities between the Leafs roster and the one he left in Los Angeles. The Kings, of course, won the 2012 Stanley Cup by beating the New Jersey Devils in six games.

Bernier told Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star:

It’s a great up-and-coming team. The Leafs feel the same way as when I started in L.A. We didn’t have much for a few years, then we got some really good draft picks and after that, free agents wanted to come. That’s what happening here. I can see they’re building a really good team.

But the building process is just a small step. If the Leafs are going to keep on getting better, Bernier must turn his potential between the pipes into consistent performance.

He must do it while fans, media and the team's management scrutinizes him. It won't be easy.

However, if he performs the way he did in Los Angeles last season, he will be treated like conquering hero.


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