Early this season, it felt like Toronto had won its goaltender swap with Los Angeles hands down. Jonathan Bernier was providing the team with exceptional goaltending, the Leafs were winning games and Bernier’s arrival seemed to have pushed James Reimer to his best work too.
Then Jonathan Quick got hurt, and Ben Scrivens stepped in, providing the Kings with everything Bernier was giving Toronto and then some. And with Scrivens providing strong play, the fact that Toronto had sent away other pieces (Matt Frattin, a second-round draft pick) and opted to pay a lot more money to make the goaltending change suddenly shifted the balance the other way.
That’s how trades work in the short term, especially when goalies are involved. A hot or cold streak can dramatically alter perception of a deal. But we want to project beyond that, to see which team is likely to have won this deal when history renders its final verdict.
To do so, we need to answer two questions:
1. How much better than Ben Scrivens is Jonathan Bernier?
2. Is that gap in ability enough to justify the other parts of the deal?
Let’s take them in order.
It’s difficult to compare Scrivens and Bernier, because we really don’t have that much NHL data. Bernier has seen just over 2,000 shots in the majors, Scrivens just over 1,000. We can expand a little bit by including adjusted AHL data (using Stephan Cooper’s translation factor) that gets us to 5,500 shots for Bernier and nearly 4,000 for Scrivens. What does that data show?
|Bernier vs. Scrivens: NHL and Adjusted AHL Save Percentage|
|Player||NHL Saves||NHL SV%||NHL/AHL saves||NHL/AHL SV%|
Looking solely at save percentage, and including the adjusted AHL data, we arrive at the conclusion that Bernier’s a slightly better goaltender. That’s a little misleading, though, because of the ages of the players involved.
Various studies, including this one by Steve Burtch of Pension Plan Puppets, show that the typical goaltender peaks in his early twenties and goes into decline before the age of 27. The two seasons where Bernier saw the most shots came at the ages of 20 and 21; his age-20 season was pretty bad while his age-21 season was fantastic.
If we nix Bernier’s age-20 season on the basis that he was still developing, his numbers are dramatically better than Scrivens. If we remove both his age-20 and age-21 seasons his numbers are essentially the same.
There isn’t a certain answer here; but the most likely answer seems to be that the gap between Scrivens and Bernier is a little wider than the career numbers suggest, but somewhere south of the seven-point save-percentage spread we see if we only consider Bernier from his age-21 season forward.
What did Toronto give up for that modest save-percentage improvement?
That’s where the rest of the deal comes in. According to TSN, Toronto sacrificed a second-round draft pick (2014 or 2015 at Toronto’s discretion) and Matt Frattin along with Scrivens.
There are also cap consequences. According to CapGeek.com Bernier has a $2.9 million cap hit and the Leafs are also paying $500,000 in retained salary to Frattin and Scrivens. Los Angeles is paying less than $1.0 million. It’s a nearly $2.0 million swing in cap hit against Toronto.
The loss of Frattin isn’t critical; he ranks No. 9 in total minutes for the Kings and basically has value as a dirt-cheap depth player. The second-round pick isn’t a catastrophic loss either; it’s basically a one-in-four shot at an NHL player in 2020.
But for a team pressed right up against the salary cap, the loss of $2.0 million in cap space (plus the additional need to add at least a league-minimum contract to fill Frattin’s roster spot) is an extremely difficult pill to swallow.
It is especially baffling because Toronto already has a pretty good goalie in James Reimer. If the Leafs were in a bad goaltending spot, there would be a case to upgrade Scrivens to Bernier, but they really weren’t; in fact in the four seasons prior to this one the performances of Bernier and Reimer are virtually indistinguishable.
The Kings went from “extremely good” to “quite good” at backup goalie and were able to rake in cap savings, a cheap NHL’er and a good draft pick. Meanwhile, the Toronto Redundancy Department of Redundancy paid all that to add a goalie very similar to the one they already had.
Assuming the Leafs can land a quality package in exchange for James Reimer, the Bernier trade may still work out for them. But the Kings are better off today.