Rushing the Coronation
First of all, it was and is a better idea than Tim Thomas.
Of course, hockey being hockey and sports being sports, the politically radioactive Thomas may turn out to be the signing of the summer down in Sunrise, a place where they didn't even need ushers for an exhibition game on Monday.
Well, maybe one.
Anyways, the Panthers are hoping that the 39-year-old Bruin will prove to be an effective stop-gap measure between the pipes while youngster Jacob Markstrom continues to develop and mature. On a lousy Florida team last year Markstrom had his ups and downs in 23 appearances, and as folks know in Toronto, putting it all on some kid in goal often ends up wrecking the kid.
And Thomas? Well, who knows where he's at. Not so long ago he was the best in the game, albeit behind an outstanding, tough Boston squad. But after a full year off, unless he's Ken Dryden, this is a long shot.
The Leafs could have tried something along those lines, or gone down the Roberto Luongo rabbit hole, or found some other veteran puckstopper to stand behind or alongside James Reimer, but instead decided to find another younger goalie to compete with Reimer.
It's a different approach. Let the better man take the blue paint.
Having goaltending equipment changed this fall just adds another component to this competition. Perhaps if Leaf management had been patient enough it's the kind of battle that would have gone on between Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask years ago when both were Leaf prospects. In Montreal, we watched Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak fight it out, with Price ultimately winning out.
That is what's going to happen here, and frankly, handicapping it is a waste of time at the moment. In particular, crowning Bernier as the new No. 1 goalie just because GM Dave Nonis traded for him is, frankly, both premature and a little silly. It's right up there with imagining the Colorado Avalanche were going to draft Seth Jones ahead of Nathan MacKinnon because Jones grew up in Denver.
First of all, Bernier's never been able to be a No. 1 guy before, principally because he was behind Jonathan Quick in L.A., but the bottom line is at age 25 he's yet to be a starter. Leaf fans would do well to remember that when Vesa Toskala was made a starter with the Leaf after being a backup in San Jose, he couldn't handle it.
Second, in an age of big goalies, Bernier is relatively small. It doesn't mean he can't be great, but its something to be overcome. Thomas did, but it took him a while.
Third, Reimer's pretty darn good. Nobody's saying he should have won the Vezina Trophy or will or doesn't have his warts, but to this point he's been better than Bernier in his career and has shown an ability to overcome obstacles, which matters a great deal when it comes to goalies.
Nobody ever took him in the first round and predicted he'd be the goalie of the future in Toronto or handed him anything. He had to make it happen. He had to patiently wait his turn and capitalize when every other netminding option washed out for Brian Burke.
That not only deserves respect, it means he's a pretty mentally tough kid. Bernier? We've got to find if he's got the mental toughness to battle for the position, let alone handle the workload and pressure of a No 1 guy.
It's a fascinating competition, and may well be so for a few seasons. This being Toronto, there will be those who suggest that the moment one goalie appears to have a leg up on the other, they should trade the backup for other assets.
I'd stick with two for a while. Maybe a long while.
This position has been unstable for the Leafs since Ed Belfour left town. If it takes two to stabilize it, rather than finding some older guy somewhere as a bandaid, there's nothing wrong with that.
But to me, Reimer's the starter until Bernier demonstrates he should be. And that will take at least half-a-season. Maybe more.