The Anaheim Ducks filled one of their biggest off-season holes on Friday by acquiring goalie Jonathan Bernier from the Toronto Maple Leafs to back up their newly undisputed No. 1 netminder, John Gibson.
Bernier fills the void left by Frederik Andersen, whom the Ducks traded to the Leafs last month. Anaheim sent a 2017 conditional draft pick for Toronto in exchange for the netminder.
For the last two seasons, Andersen and Gibson split time in net for Anaheim, with each showing flashes the potential to become a top starting netminder. Before this year’s playoffs, then-Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau joked that he was flipping a coin to determine which one would start the postseason. But with next year’s expansion draft looming, the Ducks would only be able to lock up one of their goalies long term, which forced GM Bob Murray to go with the hand of the young and promising Gibson, who turns 23 next week, as opposed to Andersen, 26, who backstopped Anaheim to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago.
However, Gibson has only played a total of 66 NHL games in three years, 40 of which came last season, so Murray has said he wasn’t yet ready to give Gibson a workload of 65 to 70 starts, Rather than risk overworking the young goalie, Murray wanted a reliable backup who could play 20 to 25 games. Gibson has also been injury-prone, suffering several "day-to-day" injuries and missing six weeks of the 2014-15 campaign due to a groin injury.
Which is where Bernier, who turns 28 in August, comes in. The former Leaf and King has posted an 88-88-23 NHL record with 12 shutouts, a 2.67 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage in 213 career NHL games. While he hasn’t proved himself as a No. 1—he went 12-21-3, 2.88, .908 last season—he is a veteran who can fill a backup role and at least give Gibson some rest during the course of the season.
Bernier’s ability to step in when called upon will be crucial for the Ducks. Last season, they got off to one of the worst goal-scoring starts in NHL history, but were buoyed by a defense that led the league by allowing only 2.29 goals per game. At the moment, that entire defensive group seems poised to come back, but Hampus Lindholm remains a restricted free agent and Cam Fowler has been rumored to be on the trading block. While their future in Orange County remains fuzzy, the Ducks have several strong up-and-comers like Shea Theodore who will no doubt give them one of the league’s top units once again. That will surely be a nice change for Bernier, who struggled behind a Toronto defense that ranked 25th in the league by allowing 2.93 goals per game last season.
A backup goalie was one of the crucial pieces for the Ducks this off-season, along with some left wingers, but Anaheim was the only team to just sit back on July 1—the opening day of free agency—and let some of the top options, such as Al Montoya and Jeff Zatkoff, go elsewhere. However, patience has paid off for the Ducks, as Bernier was due a $2 million signing bonus that day, so even though he is a $4.15 million salary cap hit next season, the Ducks will only pay him $2.15 million.
Whenever Bernier arrives in Orange County, there will be some interesting reunions. While with Toronto, he played two of his three seasons under newly-hired Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. By the way, during those seasons, he was significantly better than he was last season, as he had .923 and .912 save percentages respectively. Then there will be his meeting with star forward and assistant captain Corey Perry, with whom he got into a scrum last season.
He will also be joining some of his former rivals, as he backstopped Jonathan Quick down the road in Los Angeles for five seasons.
The Ducks still have some major off-season concerns to address—the re-signings of Lindholm and center Rickard Rakell, and bringing in some left wingers, among them—but they have at least checked one major item off their to-do list.