It’s a process that all sides try to avoid. But in the case of the Maple Leafs, choosing the path of club-elected arbitration on goaltender Jonathan Bernier
was an absolute necessity for the team.
“In my opinion, the organization made the right decision with going to arbitration so that with the whole new coaching staff there has no questions on who would be in training camp,” said Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello. “Right now everything is stable.”
A big difficulty in getting a deal done prior to arbitration was assessing a value. With the plethora of changes the Leafs have undergone from a managerial standpoint, the Leafs’ additions in players have largely been locked into the 1-2 year range.
Players that were retained from last season have to improve on their performance going forward. That included Bernier, who agreed to a two-year contract just before an arbitrator was to hand down a final decision on his remuneration.
“I want to be part of the Maple Leafs, especially the rebuild. I think that's something amazing. I'm pretty sure they have a good plan and we're going to go in the right direction. I'm excited,” said Bernier. “Two years, it gives me a little bit of comfort and I don't have to think this year about re-signing next summer. I can just really focus on playing hockey and not have to worry about the following year.”
Going through the arbitration process can get a little tricky. Things are said to bolster each other’s cause. When it’s all said and done, you have to maintain a good working relationship and words have to be chosen carefully.
“There's obviously things they say that you don't want to hear, but at the same time I think you grow from those experiences. I won't be sour about it. I know it's part of the business,” added Bernier. “They're trying to get the best deal possible, we're trying to do the same on our side. I'm just happy right now that we found a deal for the terms that we wanted.”
Bernier has seen his workload increase in the two seasons he has been with the Maple Leafs. It’s likely that if healthy, Bernier’s workload will only continue to increase.
Ensuring Bernier has the resources at his disposal, Steve Briere was brought in as the team’s new goaltending coach last month.
“We worked together actually for five days I'd say three weeks ago,” said Bernier. “It went really well. He's a really hard working guy. I'm very excited to work with him. I think he can bring my game to another level.”
Not needing to go into another offseason without a contract should give Bernier peace of mind. He’ll have two years to prove himself worth of being a cornerstone goaltender for the franchise.
“Hopefully he has a year that pushes us, that is the organization, to speak to him next summer and looking for long term,” said Lamoriello. “Because the thought process is trying to get a goaltender, and hopefully it's Jonathan, to be the stabilizer for this franchise.”