Author: Ryan Dadoun

Jonathan Bernier

In Bernier, Leafs hope they have a stabilizing force


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.

Looking to make the leap: Nick Ritchie

Nick Ritchie
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With their focus on competing for the Stanley Cup in 2015-16, the Anaheim Ducks haven’t left many openings for prospects to claim in training camp. Still, Nick Ritchie is someone worth keeping an eye on in September.

Taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he’s arguably the team’s top forward prospect. Even when he was drafted he had the size to play in the NHL at 6-foot-3, 236 pounds, but he’s got more than just an imposing frame. Ritchie can play a skilled game too and is coming off of a campaign where he scored 29 goals and 62 points in 48 OHL contests. He added another 13 goals and 26 points in 14 playoff games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Going into training camp, he’ll likely be competing primarily with Jiri Sekac, Nicolas Kerdiles, and Stefan Noesen for a roster spot. All three of them have more experience than Ritchie, but arguably don’t match him in raw potential.

Ducks GM Bob Murray made it clear back in June that he wouldn’t rush Ritchie, per the Orange County Register, but he didn’t dismiss the possibility of him making the team anyways. Ultimately it will be a tough task for him to stick with the Ducks at the age of 19, but he might end up being a noteworthy complimentary player this season and much more than that down the road.

Need a defenseman? There are still noteworthy UFA options

Cody Franson

Any team still seeking to bolster its blueline won’t have to look hard to find help. While we’re in August now, there are still plenty of noteworthy defensemen left on the unrestricted free agent market.

Here’s some of the blueliners up for grabs:

Cody Franson — Arguably the best player left, the 27-year-old (28 on Aug. 8) ended the 2014-15 campaign on a sour note as he didn’t mesh well with Nashville, but he still finished with a career-high 36 points. Although he’s stayed on the market for far longer than anticipated, the offensive defenseman was speaking with five or six teams as of July 21, including the Boston Bruins. He’s hoping to get more than a one-year deal though after playing through three consecutive single season contracts.

Marek Zidlicky — Boston’s desire to add to its defense has also led to GM Don Sweeney reportedly speaking with Zidlicky. At the age of 38, Zidlicky is obviously in the twilight of his career, but he still recorded 34 points last season and would be expected to play a valuable role with the man advantage.

Christian Ehrhoff — Ehrhoff was limited to 49 games last season due to concussion problems, but at the age of 33, the possibility of a bounce back campaign certainly can’t be dismissed. After all, with the exception of the lockout shortened 2013 season, he had recorded at least 30 points in five straight campaigns going into 2014-15. Ehrhoff has been linked to Columbus, but the Blue Jackets are a little less than $4 million under the ceiling, per General Fanager, so they are unlikely to sign him unless it’s at a meaningful discount.

Lubomir Visnovsky — Visnovsky will celebrate his 39th birthday on Aug. 11 and is coming off of a rough season where he recorded five goals and 20 points in just 53 contests. He’s made it clear that he wants to continue his career, but at this point he’s reportedly considering European options. With 883 NHL games under his belt though, he has the potential to be a valuable veteran presence on an NHL squad.

Sergei Gonchar — Like Visnovsky, Gonchar expressed a desire to continue his career, but at the age of 41, there might not be interest in him. Gonchar had a goal and 14 points in 48 contests last season and he didn’t end up playing at all for Montreal during the postseason. The Canadiens don’t plan on bringing him back, so he would have to find work elsewhere. If this is the end for Gonchar, then he would be closing the book on a 1,301-game NHL career.