In a busy summer packed with big trades, two of the biggest deals involved goalies moving from the Western Conference to the East. As a goaltender myself, I couldn't help but take a long look at Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier.
Both of these guys are high-quality goalies and they're great people. I've gotten to know both of them quite well. One of the things I like about both of them is that they put their time in. They went to the American Hockey League and became dominant there, and they've earned the right to be in the National Hockey League. They've also both been patient. Bernier sat behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and Schneider sat behind Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. Now Bernier is with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Schneider is with the New Jersey Devils, two teams going in opposite directions so far in 2013-14.
Following these two offseason trades, expectations were high for both goalies and their new teams. And I would say both goalies have played well. I know Cory's 0-2-1 record entering Thursday's action doesn't reflect it, but he played really well against Winnipeg the other night, making 32 stops in a 3-0 loss. For the Devils, it's the first time in their franchise history they've lost six straight to start the season. That's an anomaly for a franchise that has been to the Stanley Cup Final five times. So in that sense, it's disappointing. But the win-loss record doesn't reflect how good he is. The Devils are having a hard time scoring right now. They're having a tough time producing any consistent offense and they're not playing with any speed.
As far as Bernier, he has been awesome. He had to battle his way around the crease Saturday night in Toronto's 6-5 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers. But when the game was on the line, he made a diving save like Ozzie Smith in the hole that kept it tied and forced OT. Then Dave Bolland did what Dave Bolland does: score big goals and make big plays at a critical time. As much as that wasn't Bernier's best game, he was still good when he needed to be and made the big save at the right time. He still has a .946 save percentage entering the game Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
I'm a James Reimer fan as well. After all, he had a .924 save percentage last year to set a franchise record. So let's not be too quick to discredit what he did. Either way, the Leafs' goaltending tandem is now one of the best in the League.
They're not the talk of the League right now like the Leafs' dynamic duo is. But I think the Devils' combo of Schneider and Martin Brodeur is also right up there. When you look at New Jersey's 0-3-3 record entering action Thursday, it definitely comes down to personnel. The Leafs are scoring and are a more explosive offensive team right now. They're a more confident offensive team than the Devils. In New Jersey, Patrik Elias is Mr. Steady and Jaromir Jagr has chipped in a couple of goals. But I know Adam Henrique can be better. He's capable of being a really good player in this League. I think Travis Zajac is a hell of a two-way player, but he's much better offensively than what he is showing so far.
We may be only two weeks into the season, and the Devils and Maple Leafs may be at opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings, but I think both of these goaltending moves have paid off for their new teams.
Speaking of new players, has anyone made more noise in the League this season than rookie Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks? I may be a little bit late to the party in this discussion, but people keep asking me about Hertl and I need to respond.
His four-goal performance against the New York Rangers last week was awesome. And his between-the-legs move on his fourth goal set a new record for video hits on NHL.com at more than 4.5 million views. But there were still people criticizing this kid for showboating or piling on late in a game that was already a rout.
I hate all of that talk. Nothing gets my stomach sicker than hearing that garbage. I always respect the guys that play in front of me and I'll always have an element of old school, don't get me wrong. But this is not the 1985 NHL. Sorry.
I think people should do their homework before they slag Hertl's character. I was texting with two players on the Sharks after the Rangers game and they were raving about this kid, how much they like his personality and how humble he is.
All of a sudden, he scores this goal and people are yelling, "What's this guy doing?" Settle down. Respect excellence when you see it. You heard him after the game. He said, "This is a dream." He's a 19-year-old fresh off the draft playing in the NHL. Do you think in his wildest dreams he ever thought he would score four in his third NHL game with his mom and his girlfriend up in the stands crying? Come on, man. That is an unbelievable moment.
Having said that, I'm looking forward to seeing how all these players continue to help their new teams. Should be fun to watch.