Vancouver, BC – Yet another name joined the crowded list of goaltenders on the market last week when Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings reiterated his request for a trade out of the City of Angels. But if the 23-year-old really wants to fast track his path towards becoming an NHL starter, then staying right where he is now is his best option even if means another season of riding the pine on most nights.
Bernier, who turns 24 in August, is coming off just his second full season in the NHL and had a front-row seat for all 20 of the Kings' postseason contests as he watched soon-to-be ex-teammate Jonathan Quick guide Los Angeles to its first ever Stanley Cup championship.
Bernier, who appeared in just 16 regular-season games, down from the 25 games he saw action in the previous year, did not see a single second of playoff action and is clearly not in the Kings' long-term plans after the team inked Quick to a mammoth 10-year, $58 million extension that will kick in at the start of the 2013-14 season.
In some ways Bernier is trying to travel the same path as that of Vancouver Canucks netminder Cory Schneider, who coincidentally inherited his gig as the No. 1 goalie in Vancouver thanks to the Kings taking out the Canucks in the opening round of the playoffs to essentially spell the end of the Roberto Luongo era there.
Like Schneider, Bernier is considered by many as a potential future superstar but, unlike his Vancouver counterpart, Bernier has not been given the same amount opportunity to showcase his abilities at the NHL level as Schneider has enjoyed. Although, that figured to change this upcoming season had he opted to stay in Los Angeles.
While Bernier wasn't going to challenge Quick for the starting spot, you'd have to believe the Kings would have given Bernier as much playing time as they possibly could if only to increase his potential trade value, knowing he was set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
L.A. might have also given Bernier more playing time simply out of necessity.
With the Kings looking to defend their Stanley Cup title, they may be inclined to give the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning Quick more chances to rest throughout the season to prevent fatigue before the start of the playoffs. Quick appeared in a combined 89 games last season during the march for the Cup.
If Bernier does get moved before the start of the season as many assume he will, his best hope will be to land with a team that may have some uncertainty about their so-called number one netminder's ability to carry the team and are seeking some insurance at the position.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are reportedly one of the teams that have already submitted an offer to the Kings for Bernier.
With Jonas Gustavsson, who started most of the games for the Leafs last season, now a Detroit Red Wing, Bernier would likely get an opportunity to split the crease duties in Toronto with James Reimer, who is coming off an injury-plagued campaign that saw him miss a significant portion of the season due to a head injury.
The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers may be among the teams that would be interested in kicking tires on Bernier.
The Jets recently signed starter Ondrej Pavelec to a long-term deal but have a relatively unproven backup in former Islander Al Montoya, who has just 57 career NHL games played to his credit.
The Oilers, similarly, awarded Devan Dubnyk with a two-year extension earlier this month although they still might like to bring in someone to challenge the 26-year-old who last season set a personal career high with 20 wins. That may be contingent on whether they can dispatch former starter Nikolai Khabibulin, who still has one more year left on the contract he signed with Edmonton back in 2009.
Bernier's potential and cap-friendly salary -- his cap hit is just $1.25 million this upcoming season -- guarantees that there will be plenty of interest in his services from NHL teams.
Whether joining another NHL team at this point actually works in Bernier's own best interests remains to be seen.