Maybe this, finally, will be rock bottom for Jonathan Bernier.
The struggling goaltender was sent down to the AHL Toronto Marlies on Wednesday to begin a 10-day conditioning stint. Under the terms of the CBA, the veteran had to consent to the assignment.
It’s the latest humiliation for Bernier, who began the season as the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 goaltender but frittered the job away with an awful start that saw him go 0-8-1 with an .888 save percentage and 3.28 goals-against average. Both stats ranked him 42nd among the 44 goaltenders who have appeared in at least eight games.
Going back to last season, Bernier has just two wins in 23 appearances, with both of them requiring extra time. He hasn’t posted a win in regulation since March 3.
Bernier’s most recent start came last Saturday, when he allowed two very soft goals in a 4–2 loss to the Capitals. “The way I look at it is this: You can’t give up four in the National Hockey League and win,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said afterward. “It’s just impossible.”
The demotion was probably the best move for both the team and the player, if only because Bernier had lost the faith of Babcock. And when a player is struggling with his confidence, as Bernier clearly is, the minors can offer him an opportunity to rebuild it.
The problem here is that it might be playing in the media-saturated Toronto market that’s contributing to his downturn. Crossing the Gardiner Expressway to play at the Ricoh Coliseum won’t exactly give him the space he needs to clear his head. But given that he’s a struggling netminder who just started the two-year, $8.3 million extension he signed last August, a trade isn’t an option. Bernier either gets it together with the Marlies or he doesn’t.
There’s no word yet on when Bernier might make his first appearance with the Marlies, but the team has three games on its schedule this weekend. They play on Friday night in Rochester, NY, and then return home to host Manitoba on Saturday and Sunday.