The deal was one of the centrepieces of the Toronto Maple Leafs off-season retooling, and it brought in one of the team’s most valuable players so far this season.
But strangely enough, whether it was the right move still remains up for debate.
On June 23, GM Dave Nonis moved four assets of variable quality – goalie Ben Scrivens, winger Matt Frattin, a second-round pick in 2014 or 2015 (Toronto’s choice) and $500,000 in salary cap space – to the Los Angeles Kings for highly regarded young netminder Jonathan Bernier.
Six months later, the deal now gets its first true close-up at the Air Canada Centre, with the powerhouse Kings in town on Wednesday.
Bernier is expected to start in the Leafs net and Scrivens in the other, making for a nice little storyline for HBO to pick up on with two teams that rarely meet.
Not that the goalies are approaching it that way.
“No, not really,” Bernier said of wanting to beat the fellow he was traded for. “As a goalie, you play to win a game and don’t focus on what the other goalie’s going to do.”
To date, Bernier has delivered on his reputation in Toronto, posting a .929 save percentage despite facing an incredible 11.3 more shots per 60 minutes than he did as a King.
Scrivens, meanwhile, doesn’t have that same pedigree but has nonetheless also thrived in California, with a 7-2-4 record and league-leading .943 save percentage as starter Jonathan Quick recovers from a groin injury.
So the Leafs are happy that the goalie they got has performed even better than expected.
And the Kings are happy that the one they landed has been markedly better than their modest expectations.
But there’s a lot more of interest going on in the underbelly of this particular trade than two happy teams.
Toronto, for example, could certainly use the cap space they gave up to bring in Bernier. Incumbent James Reimer and Scrivens have played so well that it’s hard to argue they wouldn’t have been an effective tandem, and the extra $2.9-million in salary is badly needed elsewhere on the Leafs roster.
That’s not to say Nonis is overspending in goal, especially not with how well his two ‘tenders have played. Just that he had options and upgrading in net wasn’t the slam dunk one.
On the Los Angeles side, the Kings brass wasn’t certain initially that Scrivens was going to be their backup. There was internal skepticism over his ability, and they brought in veteran Mathieu Garon (now in the KHL) on a training camp tryout to compete for the job.
Scrivens eventually won them over, but even now, the Kings have been giving several starts to 23-year-old Martin Jones in recent games, another sign they don’t necessarily view the former Leaf as part of their long-term goaltending picture.
Like Reimer, being overlooked has been a running theme in Scrivens’s career. He didn’t get a sniff from major junior, wasn’t drafted into the NHL and didn’t lock in a scholarship at Cornell until he was 20 years old and almost out of hockey.
What the 27-year-old from Spruce Grove, Atla., has done is continued to prove people in the game wrong, posting impressive numbers in college, the ECHL, AHL and now the NHL.
“He’s a hard worker,” said Leafs winger Jerry D’Amigo, Scrivens’s long-time teammate in the minors. “I remember with the Marlies, he would always be the last guy out there [at practice]. He’s battled through it, and he deserves it. Hopefully, he’s not too good against us.”
As for the other player the Kings acquired in the trade, the one they were more excited to get, Frattin hasn’t panned out. He started out auditioning for a plum spot on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and is now a sometimes healthy scratch who has only six points in 25 games.
Playing for a better team and another no-nonsense coach, Frattin’s ice time is into the single digits in recent games.
That just adds to the mixed bag of the trade, one we probably won’t be able to fully evaluate until several years down the road. Goalies, in particular, are strange animals and projecting which ones will succeed in the NHL is rarely as simple as looking at their first 50 to 100 games.
So far, all three involved in the conversation – Bernier, Scrivens and Reimer – have done very well, adding more fodder to the water-cooler debate over which team “won” the June deal.
“I got drafted by them, won a Cup,” Bernier said of facing his former team. “I have great friends over there. But at the same time, this was the chance I was waiting for. I’m very happy playing for the Leafs.”
“I would have happily been in Toronto still,” Scrivens told the LA Times. “It wasn’t my choice to leave. That being said, I’m very happy with where I am right now.”
UPDATE: After he posted a shutout in Montreal on Tuesday, Kings rookie Martin Jones is now expected to get the start against Toronto.
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