An argument could be made that the last goaltender to have a terrific season in Toronto was Ed Belfour back in 2002-03 and 2003-04, but perhaps Jonathan Bernier, who signed a two-year extension today, can still follow in his footsteps.
Bernier hasn’t been given the best of teams to work behind, but he did have an encouraging 2013-14 campaign with a 2.68 GAA and .923 save percentage in 55 contests on a team that ranked dead last in shots allowed per game (35.9). Last season was, at best, a mixed bag, but Toronto was also a squad in turmoil for much of that campaign.
Toronto still doesn’t have a good team on paper, but the hope is that it will at least be less prone to falling apart with Mike Babcock behind the bench. Of course, regardless of the situation, it’s up to Bernier to prove that he’s worthy of a long-term deal. He’ll turn 27 on Aug. 7, so him having promise isn’t sufficient at this point.
“The thought process is trying to get a goaltender, and hopefully it’s Jonathan, to be the stabilizer for this franchise,” Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said, per the Canadian Press. “Having that one (extra) year is both good for Jonathan and the organization, whether it’s the organization evaluating or whether it’s Jonathan proving.”
If everything goes as Lamoriello hopes, then Bernier will represent a strong presence between the pipes for when Toronto comes out the other end of its latest rebuild. If not, then the Maple Leafs goaltending will be another area that will need to be addressed. Either way, Bernier has two more seasons to show the Leafs what he’s capable of.