Last Sunday, the hockey world watched Jonathan Quick in amazement as the Los Angeles Kings finished their game with the Detroit Red Wings on national television. While Quick frequently amazed everyone last spring during his Conn Smythe run, this was a completely different story. Instead, fans were left gasping as Quick let the game-winning goal trickle through his five-hole with just 5 seconds left. Soon, two questions were ringing through Kings Nation: What’s wrong with Jonathan Quick, and is it time to start Jonathan Bernier?
Jonathan Ericsson’s game-winner provided the Kings with a painful, deflating loss after they had just tied the game 48 seconds earlier. The goal also added to Quick’s sluggish start (3-4-2, 2.70 GAA, .891 Save %). As Head Coach Darryl Sutter said afterwards, “So we need better goaltending – it doesn’t matter who our goalie is to tell you the truth.”
Sutter opted to start Jonathan Bernier the following night in St. Louis and was rewarded with a 4-1 win. It was only Bernier’s 2nd appearance and his first start of the young season. He had a light workload, but made 21 saves on 22 shots to earn the win.
His performance also begged the question of what is the team doing with Bernier? He made headlines last summer when he revealed that he had requested a trade at last year’s trade deadline. He made his request public shortly after Quick received his 10 year contract extension in July. He also reiterated his wishes in October, and then again in January after the lockout ended.
Unfortunately for Bernier, nothing has changed in his status as he remains the ultimate insurance plan. Entering the season, Sutter firmly put out his expectations for his starting goalie, “I’m assuming, around the league, they’ll play in 90 – 100% of the games,” which also insinuated a firm role on the bench for Bernier. General Manager Dean Lombardi also showed his hand by saying, “Unless something hits us that’s really going to help this team, it’s not feasible.”
Now, with the Kings about to hit the quarter mark of a shortened season, it’s time to revisit all of these sentiments. Los Angeles is currently struggling on offense (24th in goals for, 27th on the powerplay), injured on defense (Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, and now Alec Martinez out), and not receiving the Vezina-type goaltending they need to withstand the first two problems.
After Bernier made his trade requests known, many expected that he would be traded sooner rather than later. Heading into this season, there were a few teams looking to change their goaltending situation. Many of them seemed to be handcuffed by the ongoing Roberto Luongo drama as well. Among the rumored suitors at one time or another: Toronto, Calgary, New Jersey, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Columbus.
While Lombardi values Bernier very highly as a key to another Stanley Cup, it is clear that he does not see eye to eye with other teams on his value. Rumors have circulated that the asking price for Bernier, who has played well but has never had the #1 goaltender role, is far too high around the league. His value has also increased for the Kings specifically with Quick coming off of back surgery and starting slowly.
Bernier may have the potential to be a starting goaltender elsewhere in the league, but it would appear that Lombardi values him higher as a backup than other teams currently value him as a starter. The Kings have made two major trades prior to the past two trade deadlines to make their playoff runs (acquiring Dustin Penner in 2011 and Jeff Carter in 2012) and paid a steep price in each trade. It might be time for Lombardi to consider Bernier as his steep price to help the team out in 2013. Acquiring another defenseman could help greatly for a team that won the Stanley Cup through strong defense and incredible goaltending.
If the Kings do keep Bernier, it’s time to at least give him a chance to earn more starts. Sutter and Lombardi are doing the Kings a major disservice if they continue along the path of keeping Bernier but using him sparingly. He is valuable as either a trade asset or a backup (who actually plays), but not as a potential trade asset who never plays. At this rate, Bernier won’t be able to help the Kings on or off the ice like he should.
It’s time to make a decision Los Angeles, will Bernier start more games or get shipped out? The ongoing answer of “neither” is turning into the mismanagement of an asset.