Skip to main content

There were skeptics when the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Jonathan Bernier a little more than two years ago. They were outnumbered by boosters, but they existed.

Even their most dire forecasts couldn't have seen this coming.

Bernier, the Leafs' nominal No. 1 goalie since 2013-14, is in trouble. He hasn't won a game yet this season. He has one win in his past 19 games and six in his past 40.

Story continues below advertisement

His save percentage (.888) is dead last among goaltenders with at least eight starts this season.

Now his coach is turning to a green rookie instead.

Mike Babcock told the media that Garret Sparks, who has some sparkling numbers in minors this season for the Marlies, will start Monday against Edmonton.

Babcock also said several other things about his goalies, none of which flattered Bernier, who allowed at least two questionable goals in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

"The way I look at it is this: You can't give up four in the National Hockey League and win," Babcock said on Saturday after the loss. "It's just impossible."

"The way I look at it, when you get your opportunities, you got to make good on them," he added Sunday.

Babcock's biggest frustration with Bernier has been how dramatically his miscues have sunk otherwise solid performances from the rest of the team. He has had a penchant for allowing brutal floaters early in games – Jason Chimera's shot less than four minutes into the game Saturday qualifies – and putting the Leafs behind right away.

Story continues below advertisement

According to war-on-ice.com, the Leafs outchanced the Capitals, 26-25, and allowed only eight "high danger" scoring chances all night against one of the best teams in the NHL.

Bernier has not had a lot of goal support in his starts. But his numbers have been trending the wrong way for almost a full calendar year now, as he has only a .901 save percentage in 2015.

In the second half of last year, with the Leafs icing a makeshift roster, the argument could be (and was) made that a lot of that was on the defence core.

This year, Babcock's system has meant that's not the case on most nights.

There's an interesting thought experiment to be had if you consider where the Leafs would be without Bernier's starts this year. James Reimer has been excellent in taking over, and if not for a nagging injury, would have played both Saturday and Monday.

Reimer is 7-3-4 on the season – a 105-point pace over 82 games. His Carey Price-like .934 save percentage is the equivalent to allowing roughly 1.5 fewer goals a game than Bernier has.

Story continues below advertisement

At the very least, it's not hard to envision the Leafs with another two or three wins with Reimer in goal in most of these games, which would put them within only a few points of a wild-card spot.

As it is, Toronto is dead last in the Eastern Conference, and tracking to get a very good draft pick.

In the long run, that's better anyway. But it leaves the Leafs in an interesting spot given Bernier is under contract at a pretty big ticket ($4.15-million) for another year after this one, and Reimer can walk as a free agent.

According to those close to the situation, this is almost certainly the last year both goalies will play for the Leafs. Reimer is only going to re-sign if he has a legitimate shot at being a No. 1. If he continues to play well, another team will give him that chance if Toronto won't.

(Calgary, Carolina and Edmonton all have brutal team save percentages at the moment and uncertain situations in the crease next season.)

Bernier? You can make the case he would clear waivers right now, which is a steep fall from where he was when he arrived in town. Perhaps a team wants him as a reclamation project, as other goalies have recovered from dips more pronounced than this?

Story continues below advertisement

Perhaps.

But for now, Sparks – a big, gregarious 22-year-old that the Leafs took at the end of the 2011 draft – gets his shot to make good on his first NHL opportunity, only seven months removed from playing in the ECHL.

You get the sense Babcock won't hesitate to give him a few chances if he plays well against the Oilers, which would bump Bernier to No. 3.

No one – not even the long-time doubters – imagined he could fall that quickly.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter