Win & You’re In
The 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs training camp certainly doesn’t lack for stories out of the gate.
Nazem Kadri’s bridge deal, Cody Franson holding out and two cornerstones of the Burke era approaching free agency keep the drama fresh for the throngs of media.
With Kadri’s deal out of the way however, the largest story heading into camp has to come by way of the battle for the crease, a war that will likely (and hopefully) wage well into the season.
Jonathan Bernier, one of GM Dave Nonis’ many noteworthy acquisitions this offseason, is certainly poised for starters minutes in the NHL. The former first-round selection will be hot on the heels of James Reimer heading into camp and while it shouldn’t be called a controversy, there’s definitely a goaltending competition on the go.
It’s probable, assuming both goalies play to their potential, Reimer and Bernier may very well end up splitting the net for half to two-thirds of the season. Head Coach Randy Carlyle has already publicly stated he will employ the “win and you’re in” philosophy in the early going. That seems to be the only way to handle having two prominent goaltenders vying for one goal, especially in this city.
Goaltending “controversies” are created all too easily these days and it’s not too often they seem to work out. Reimer and Bernier can in-fact already attest to that. In 2011 at the World Hockey Championships, the two found themselves representing Team Canada on none other than Dave Nonis’ squad. Reimer had just completed a stellar conclusion to the NHL’s regular season and played the majority of Canada’s round-robin games posting a record of 3-0 with a 2.04 GAA and .920 SV%. When his Kings were eliminated from the playoffs, Bernier joined Team Canada, playing their final qualifying game and losing to the Russians 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
If that wasn’t taken as a snub of sorts considering Reimer was his starting goalie in Toronto, than it surely is an indication as to Nonis’ thoughts towards Bernier. One may even consider the Laval native as the front-runner to start the season opener.
The term and dollar amount of Bernier’s deal in comparison to Reimer’s would be indication enough for many. Backing up arguably the world’s best goaltender in Los Angeles, Bernier quietly posted a 9-3-1 record with a .922 SV% and sparkling 1.88 GAA. Kings GM Dean Lombardi often credited the Kings making the playoffs on Bernier’s early-season play with starter Jonathan Quick recovering from back surgery.
At the same time, if there’s been any stability in Reimer’s tenure so far in the Blue & White it’s been his reluctance to give up the net. He’s battled through injuries and, at times, inconsistent play. Last year however, he backstopped the Leafs to the club’s first playoff appearance in nearly a decade. Reimer’s also scuffled with extended rumours and trade speculation, handling all with unparalleled grace and composure. You could understand if Reimer displayed even a slight bit of frustration and yet he continues to be poised to battle and prove his worth.
As mentioned earlier, Carlyle’s “win and you’re in” mentality is the only way to handle a situation of this sort. With two top-tier goaltenders, each of whom are good teammates that will push one another, it simplifies the situation for all involved.
In Reimer and Bernier’s case the equation is very simple. Win and prepare to play the following contest. Lose and you’ll have a game or more to reset. There are no guessing games to cause distraction or uncertainty.
More importantly, in this market at least, it does its absolute best at quelling what can be a hostile media environment. Reimer has proven his ability to handle the rumours and speculation. It’s a different story for Bernier and he’ll have to adapt to pressure fast. Again, “win and you’re in” simplifies the scenario where the hot hand will play. It doesn’t leave much room to conjure up stories of conspiracy if it’s employed properly.
A platoon system can work in today’s NHL. Just look at last year’s Stanley Cup Champions for an example. The trick is in simplifying the situation as much as possible and keeping lines of communication open and honest. Reimer and Bernier have both shown the ability to be patient while remaining competitive and give the indication it should at least get the college try. If all goes to plan, it should give Toronto one of the best one-two punches between the iron bars.