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Bernier happy to get fresh start in Toronto

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- On first blush, you'd think members of Jonathan Bernier's family would be delighted to trade their Los Angeles Kings jerseys for those of the Toronto Maple Leafs. That wouldn't be so hard to swallow.

It's a little more complicated, however.

The 24-year-old goaltender, who was traded Sunday to the Maple Leafs by the Los Angeles Kings, grew up in Montreal and most of his family members are diehard fans of the Canadiens. At least they were.

"They are all pretty much saying the same thing -- we have to switch jerseys," Bernier said with a laugh. "I'm sure they'll all do it. I don't know if they'll like it, but it's going to be great to be playing closer to home so my family can come and watch me play."

Bernier, who was selected with the 11th pick of the first round in the 2006 NHL Draft by the Kings, was dealt to Toronto for right winger Matt Frattin, backup goaltender Ben Scrivens and a second round pick in the 2014 or 2015 Entry Draft.

The Maple Leafs have been in the market for a goalie upgrade, or at the very least somebody to push James Reimer for the starting job, and many believe Bernier has No. 1 potential. Former general manager Brian Burke was said to be in on the Roberto Luongo sweepstakes a year ago, and current GM Dave Nonis tried to acquire veteran goalie Miikka Kiprusoff from the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline.

"I'm very happy, obviously," Bernier said. "Toronto has always been a great market; especially with the good young team they have now. It feels kind of like L.A. when I first got there in that we all grew up together. Hopefully I can fit in right away."

Bernier put up solid numbers for the Kings this season, including a 9-3-1 record with a sparkling 1.88 goals-against average and .922 save percentage with one shutout. However, he was not able to unseat Jonathan Quick for the starter's job and it was clear if he was ever to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, it was going to have to be with another organization.

While Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis obviously hopes he has acquired a bona fide No. 1 goalie for his team, he was careful not to step on incumbent Reimer’s toes. Pro scouts who covered the Western Conference this season told Bernier has the potential to be a trustworthy starter who can play the bulk of the games in an 82-game season.

"Bernier is still young and we think he has a long ways to go in terms of development -- a lot of goalies continue to get better well into their late 20s and early 30s, and that is something we can expect from him," Nonis said. "He is an extremely hard-working young man and he’s very determined. He has played well in the games he played in Los Angeles and his numbers were excellent. There’s always a gamble when you are taking a young player, but we felt with the upside Jonathan has it was worth taking the gamble."

Nonis said conversation with the Kings regarding Bernier began during the first two weeks of the 48-game season. He added the teams were close to making a deal a few times, but weren’t able to get it down. Nonis said Lombardi reached out after the Kings were eliminated from the playoffs and the talks picked up speed again.


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The Maple Leafs will retain part of the salaries of Frattin and Scrivens -- it has been reported they will pay $500,000 -- and Nonis said organizations can hold back salary on three transactions.

Have the Maple Leafs solved their goaltending concerns? Nonis said he is a lot happier about his team’s situation today than he was before.

"We think, and most teams feel, that goaltending is the most important position in the game today," Nonis said. “This (trade) is clearly not a knock on James at all, but I don’t think you can be deep enough at that position. We got younger and deeper at that position today and we feel our team is stronger because of it. We feel we have two of the top young goaltenders in the League now.

"From an experience standpoint we still don’t have the guy with seven or eight years, but we have James who has started and has played some important games in the postseason, and Jonathan Bernier played very well when his team needed him. He has been through the Stanley Cup Playoffs and he has seen and been around players who have won the Cup. We think it’s a pretty good pair."

It had been reported the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers were also making bids to get Bernier, but Kings GM Dean Lombardi liked the package being offered by Toronto.

"Dean promised me that he was going to trade me when we spoke at the beginning of the season," Bernier said. "He said if it was not at the trade deadline he would do it after the season. He kept his word and obviously I was very happy he did."

Reimer, 25, will be entering his fourth season with the Maple Leafs next year. Coming off a season in which he went 19-8-5 with a 2.46 GAA and .924 save percentage, the Morweena, Manitoba native remains a work in progress, often struggling with his rebound control and catching pucks with his trapper.

Bernier, who was named MVP in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs in 2006-07 and the American Hockey League's best goalie in 2009-10, is ready to begin a new chapter in Toronto, blessed with an opportunity to potentially become the Leafs’ No. 1 goalie.

"I went through some ups and downs in L.A., but they treated me very well and I'm thankful for that," Bernier said. "This is a new challenge and I'm going to show people what I can do. At the same time I'll be with a great goalie in Reimer, so it's not going to be easy. I just have to do what I know I can do and hopefully have success."

The 6-foot, 200 pound Frattin, who is 25, has top-six potential in the NHL and is a solid two-way performer. In 25 games with the Maple Leafs this season he had seven goals and 13 points, and then added two assists in six playoff games.

Scrivens, 26, helped the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup Final last season and is 11-14-2 in 32 NHL games the past two seasons.

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