Should the Edmonton Oilers be interested in Jonathan Bernier?

Jonathan Willis
July 13 2012 11:54AM

The situation in net for the Oilers is not particularly good. Devan Dubnyk has shown well over the last two seasons, but isn’t a sure thing and backup Nikolai Khabibulin has had one good, healthy, season since the NHL lockout. With Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier requesting a trade, should the Oilers be interested?

The short answer: probably not.

Yesterday, Bernier told French-language media that he had requested a trade back at the NHL’s trade deadline. The Kings told him it wasn’t happening. Now, however, he expects that the team will accommodate his request prior to training camp. From L.A. Lariviere with TVA Sports, who broke the story on Twitter yesterday:

Bernier’s a good goaltender, and should attract interest from teams in need of net-minding help. The 23-year old was the 11th overall pick of the 2006 Draft, and had two excellent seasons as a starter with Manchester of the AHL prior to a pair of decent seasons as a backup in Los Angeles. Likely, he will show himself as a starter-calibre goalie in the NHL at some point in his career.

The thing is that Los Angeles, like Vancouver with Cory Schneider last year, really has no reason to accommodate his request unless they get what they perceive to be fair value coming back the other way. Bernier’s under contract for next season at a reasonable cap hit, and he will be a restricted free agent afterwards, meaning that the Kings can safely use him for a year and still be confident that he’ll have trade value next summer. It might be tough for the Kings to get his name on a new contract a year from now, but that’s not a pressing reason to deal him.

It’s been suggested in some quarters that Bernier must be dealt so as to keep peace in the locker room, but to put it bluntly that’s a crock. Bernier asked for a trade at last year’s deadline, meaning that this situation existed all through the Kings’ playoff run – and as I recall, the team did okay in the post-season. (Digression: This particular locker room also featured ‘Dry Island’ duo of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the much-maligned Dustin Penner, and others. If ever there was a team that proved the lasting worthlessness of arm-chair team psychology, it was this one.)

So, despite Bernier’s stated wish to go elsewhere, the Kings are under no particular pressure to move him immediately. That means they’ll be expecting so receive market value for him, and despite the fact that Bernier remains unproven, market value seems to be pretty high. A few recent trades involving young goalies shows that:

  • Semyon Varlamov (Career: 59GP, 0.917 SV% at time of trade) – traded for a first round pick (Colorado had finished with the second overall pick that summer) and a second round selection.
  • Anders Lindback (Career: 38GP, 0.914 SV%) – traded with Kyle Wilson and a seventh round pick for Sebastien Caron, two second-round picks and a third-round pick
  • Sergei Bobrovsky (Career: 83GP, 0.909 SV%) – traded for a second round pick and two fourth round picks

None of those goaltenders really come close to the draft pedigree of Bernier, with Varlamov (a 23rd overall pick) coming closest. Where would Bernier’s value lie, compared to the three above? It seems likely that the Kings would be looking for at least a first-round pick; they might even be able to finesse a little more out of an organization.

The Oilers aren’t really in a position to be giving up first round picks; maybe they could swap a prospect instead but either way the acquisition would be pricey. Additionally, they aren’t really set up to acquire a goalie like Bernier.

The team’s decision not to buyout Nikolai Khabibulin – as well as to ink Yann Danis to an incredibly lucrative AHL contract – means they’re ill-suited to adding a goalie without sending one away. Would the Oilers be willing to bury Khabibulin’s contract in the minors? It seems unlikely, particularly given that if the Oilers had bought out Khabibulin in the summer, they’d have saved $1.25 million in real money. If they had real interest in upgrading between the pipes, that was something they likely would have done.

Nor is Bernier a clear upgrade on Devan Dubnyk. Leaving aside the size factor (which is increasingly becoming a vital factor for goalies), Bernier has played 48 career games and posted a 0.910 save percentage. Dubnyk has 101 career games under his belt with a 0.910 save percentage – and the latter number is dragged down by a 19-game run in 2009-10 where he posted just a 0.889 save percentage. Bernier may be the better player in the long run, but it isn't at all clear that he'll be hte better player next season.

If the Kings were in a bind with Bernier, a position where the Oilers had some leverage to extract a favourable deal, things might be different. But at this point, paying a premium price in assets for a guy who may not be an upgrade over the current starter – and who will clearly be displeased if he ends up as the backup – would be a mistake.

THIS WEEK BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.