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.
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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