Leafs, Bernier Still Negotiating

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (July 15) — The mystery regarding the Maple Leafs and goalie Jonathan Bernier is rather limited given that Bernier will remain property of the club in any eventuality. Last month, the Leafs elected to take Bernier to arbitration under Article 12.9 K (ii) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The only matters still to be determined are:

? Whether the Leafs and Bernier’s agent — Pat Brisson — can agree on a contract extension before the July 30 arbitration hearing.

? In the unlikelihood an agreement cannot be reached, which proposal the arbitrator will choose — the one put forth by the team or the player.

It is that cut–and–dried.

When contacted by email on Tuesday, all Brisson would say is that, “So far, [the arbitration hearing is] scheduled at that time, yes.”

In other words, the parties are still trying to hammer out a multi–year accord. If the matter is not resolved in the next 15 days, the sides will have no alternative but to accept the arbitration ruling. A club can “walk away” from an award that exceeds a percentage of the average NHL salary (an amount currently in the neighborhood of $3.7 million/season), but only if the player has chosen arbitration. In a team–elected process, there is no “walk–away” provision. Which means Bernier would begin play next season under the term and salary chosen by the arbitrator — the Leafs’ lone option (pending clauses) to trade the goalie’s contract.

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JONATHAN BERNIER IN ACTION AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE. TORONTO STAR PHOTO

This situation has undoubtedly been complicated by a pair of issues: a) the fact Toronto is the only club in the NHL to not have a full–time general manager, or a person in its hierarchy — with the exception of senior adviser Cliff Fletcher — experienced in contract negotiation. And, b) that the Leafs were so horrible after mid–December of last season, it is nearly impossible to determine Bernier’s actual value. Which gives rise to the arbitration process — one that both parties might best avoid.

Once into arbitration, a team must forcefully advocate why a player is “not worth” the contract he has proposed. Among the admissible categories are “special qualities of leadership or public appeal” which the club contends the player is lacking. Statistical performance; length of service to a team, and “the overall contribution of the player to the competitive success or failure of the club in the preceding season” can also be argued. Bernier and Brisson might need ear–plugs during that portion of the debate, given how the Leafs won a mere 11 of their final 51 games in 2014–15. It is primarily the reason the club chose arbitration in this instance. Relations can be damaged in the process, which is why parties normally strive to reach an agreement beforehand.

Bernier is a competent NHL goalie. Brisson is among hockey’s elite agents. And, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan is aware that a balance must be struck in this negotiation to avoid ill feelings and blemished pride. I expect the parties to shake hands well before July 30.

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7 comments on “Leafs, Bernier Still Negotiating

  1. Bernier is a decent enough goalie, but I would try to do a 3yr. deal other than anything long term. Where’s Jiri Crha?

  2. If the goal is to suck and pick high in the draft, why waste money on a player who could negate the strategy should he live up to his potential?

    Trade him for picks and go with Reimer.

  3. I don’t have a problem with Bernier, but if the Leafs aren’t going to be good next season why not see what you can get for him?

  4. Bernier isn’t worth a long-term deal yet. At the same point, it’s way too soon to give up on him. I thought he was a top 10 goalie in 2013′-14.

    He regressed last season, yes. but he is young and has lots of upside.

  5. It might be even more difficult if the process moves to the arbitrator given the fat contract awarded to the equally fat Nazem Kadri. I watched some footage of Kadri working out with a trainer yesterday and was SHOCKED at the shape he’s in. There isn’t an ounce of muscle definition on him. He was struggling to even do the weight training properly.

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