The Leafs sit one point out of third in the Eastern Conference, and if you've watched a lot of their games in the 2013-14 season, you know that both Bernier and fellow netminder James Reimer have bailed the team out on many evenings.
Bernier was a key off-season acquisition for the club from the Los Angeles Kings. The 25-year-old native of Laval, Quebec, was not going to get the opportunity to be the starter with the Kings behind the very talented Jonathan Quick.
While the Leafs had Reimer in place, Bernier had been tagged as a potentially dominant goaltender at the NHL level if given the opportunity. Bernier has not played a full season yet, but he has basically aced the test so far.
With just over 20 games left in the season, it's not too early to start handicapping who might be in contention for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the league's outstanding goaltender.
Goalies are usually chosen from teams that have had at least modest success over the course of the year. If a club is not in or near a playoff spot, it is unlikely to feature a goaltender who will get serious consideration for the award.
While most teams have shared duties in the today's NHL, Vezina contenders normally play the majority of games for their teams.
Here are the statistical leaders in the key goaltending categories thus far:
|Goalie Name||Save %||G.A.A.||Saves||Shutouts||Wins||T.O.I|
A few names jump out from the list for posting good numbers in several categories, and Bernier is one of them. Ultimately, save percentage, shutouts, minutes played and goals-against average are going to be the most important factors in the selection of the Vezina Trophy winner.
While save percentage is also an indicator of good team defensive play, it gives a better indication of a goaltender's quality when combined with raw saves. The quality of shots is not factored in with these two stats, but NHL fans will know that Bernier has passed the eye test here, as he's made a number of quality saves over the 2013-14 season.
Leading a very good team or being an important factor in an average team being better than mediocre are also criteria that will be considered.
Bernier, Ben Bishop, Josh Harding, Carey Price, Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov are likely current front-runners.
If Bernier continues his high level of play, especially his great save percentage, there is every reason to believe he will be a contender for the Vezina this spring.
A Bernier win would be Toronto's first since the award was a team one and was given to Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk following the 1964-65 season.