The Bernier dilemma

Nobody in the Kings’ organization will ever say this, but I have to believe this is pretty close to a nightmare scenario for them. The goaltending situation was already tough enough with Cloutier and LaBarbera, but now they have to weigh three goaltenders and make sure they don’t do harm to their best goalie prospect.

It’s becoming clear that Jonathan Bernier, age 19, can play in the NHL. The question is, is this the right time for him to be in the NHL? Would he be better off with on-the-job training or better off with another year of confidence-building seasoning in junior hockey? Bernier is pretty certain of the answer.

“I learned a lot last year and I’m ready for this,” Bernier said. “I don’t want to go back to juniors. My focus is to play here.”

So if Bernier has been the Kings’ best goalie at training camp, what’s holding him back? That would be the ghost of Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh’s No. 1 pick in 2003. Fleury, who had three years of junior experience, started the 2003 season as the Penguins’ goalie. (Coincidentally, Fleury split time with J.S. Aubin that season and made his debut in a loss to the Kings.) Fleury had mixed results and ended up being sent back to his junior team in January. Due in part to the lockout, Fleury didn’t become a full-time NHL goalie until last season, and the Penguins received some criticism for rushing him.

The Kings don’t want to do that with Bernier. Problem is, because he isn’t yet 20 years old and hasn’t yet played four years of junior hockey, they can’t send him to the AHL. So it’s either the NHL, where he might not be ready, or the juniors, where he already proved that he’s far and above the competition.

The Kings aren’t tipping their hand. From the start, Crawford has said he will wait as long as necessary to make a decision about the goaltending.

“He’s a good young goaltender and he’s going to be a high-end goaltender,” Crawford said. “The question is how quickly he’s going to take that step.”

A third option would be to keep Bernier in Los Angeles as a test run. He can play up to nine games at the NHL level and still be returned to Lewiston. Crawford wouldn’t budge when asked about this possibility.

“I don’t want to put something in front of them other than what’s in front of them,” Crawford said. “They have to focus on what’s in front of them, and I wouldn’t want to cloud that.”

Too late. Bernier is clearly thinking about making the team. At the same time, he knows a roster spot isn’t going to be handed to him.

“I’m just going to try to play well tonight,” Bernier said. “After that hopefully I’ll get another game. When they give me a chance, it’s my ball. I have to run with it and it’s up to me to play good.”

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  • Andy Glas

    “Nightmare Scenario”? This is one nightmare I wouldn’t mind having

  • Double B

    You really got to hand it to him for his attitude. I don’t envy the guy making the decision on Bernier, even though I suspect he’s headed back to juniors.

    This is, by far, the most intriguing story coming out of camp this year.

  • Bill-azkingfan

    I posted this over at LGK as well, if he puts up a shut out in his 30 minutes of game time tonight and Cloutier does not do well…. this decision will get even tougher. Especially because there’s hardly any veteran defenseman dressing tonight.

  • Squidward

    It is a “nightmare” because the only way to put Bernier onto the roster is to risk losing at least one and possibly two other goalies. Any other goalie on the Kings would have to clear waivers to be sent to Manchester. I don’t see Labarbera clearing…and maybe not Aubin either.

  • Marc Nathan

    You say “now they have to weigh THREE goaltenders,” but really, isn’t it FOUR… because you can’t discount Aubin as someone “in the mix,” and if you send him to Manchester then you are pushing either Quick or Ersberg down into the ECHL, which although not optimal, is certainly a HUGE step down in terms of level of competition. That sounds fine for Daniel Taylor, but it would be a huge disappointment for fans of either of the other two guys.

    Personally, I’ve never been sold on LaBarbera as being much more than a very good AHL goalie, with NHL plug-in potential, and we all know that Cloutier has failed miserably when matched up against his early potential as a Ranger draftee. Aubin is probably no more than a half step better or worse than either of those guys on any given day, so the three headed nightmare has nothing to do with Bernier. He’s the “hope springs eternal” guy. Unfortunately, Kings fans have generally been “hope springs irrational” folk for many years. If Bernier > Storr, then we may be heading to our cars to hear the wrap up show with smiles on our faces for the first time in a long time… but is that this season? I’m not sure the coaching staff and management may have the luxury of choice here.

  • fulton

    Nice to have someone with both talent and fire in the belly. I really hope he makes the big club, and both he and LaBarbera make it impossible for Cloutier to crack the lineup.

  • Jon

    Will somebody check his birth certificate to make sure he is not really 20! You never know.

  • Dave

    Tubby are you banned again over at HF, or just sick of it? I miss your posts. As usual, you are right on the money here.

  • Army

    I remember this conversation about Kopitar. Is he ready? Are we rushing him? I think either a kid has the make-up to succeed at a younger age or he doesn’t. If the skills are there and he has the drive and maturity, as did Kopitar, then play him! Forget this rushing thing. If the penguins never played Fleury for instance, then he’d be where he is now but without any nhl experience.

  • Marc

    I’d send Cloutier to Manchester…he needs to get some real games under his belt. He hasn’t played healthy in three years! Let him try to get his timing back in the AHL first. Might do him some good.

  • petey

    Wow, it’s gotta suck that this is a tough decision, but it’s also very good to have this problem. If he is for sure ready, then you gotta keep him up. It’s really a double ended sword. Do you keep him in the NHL where it could set his development back, or do you send him back to juniors where it can set his development back by sending him to a league where he dominates and he really has nothing left to learn there anymore.
    I’m really starting to hate this 20 year old, or 4 year service rule. I know the CHL is a business, but if they’re fine with bringing a under age player like Taveres in, who’s ready for the next step, they should be fine with letting a player, that is not of age, go that is ready for the next step (AHL).

  • reality check

    Please dont compare Kopitar to any goaltending prospect, ever. It’s a massive disrespect to the position.

  • Quisp

    I don’t think Crawford/Lombardi want to make the Cloutier mistake twice by favoring him over better prospects who aren’t “ready.” On the other hand, isn’t that what they call, in investing, the “sunk sum” fallacy? Something about valuing money you’ve already blown more than what you have right in front of you, such that you continue to over-value your past mistake, in hopes of redeeming it?

    Anyway, Kings fans and the rest of the NHL have already written off the Cloutier mistake. Time to move on to NEW mistakes! The Bernier mistake!

    Or would that be the Bernier Cup?

    No reward without risk.

    If he’s the best in camp, he deserves to be number one. Otherwise, what kind of message does that send?

  • fourtunato

    Please forgive my ignorance but if Cloutier is sent down to Manchester and does not clear waivers, does that mean we are rid of is contract? If that’s true, boy, would that be a great thing.

    Rich, good to see some advertising on the site. means you may be kept covering the Kings if there’s money to be made!

  • Darren

    That a boy! Go play well and make their decision even harder. Got to love the kid’s drive, it’s a pleasant sight in a King goalie. Hopefully the best 2 will actually be on the roster.

    As far as Quick is concerned, would Reading really be that bad? Not what he was hoping for I’m sure when he left school early. Play well enough and the stay will not last long.

  • PSP

    Marc Nathan is correct (as usual)

    (BTW Rich – it’s spelled DILEMMA)
    :)

  • HockeyOnly

    Hope no one minds if I toss my two cents in, but I think where the differences are between Jamie Storr and JB is that JB “Wants” to be an NHL goaltender and has the mind thought and skill plus determination, and great Work Ethic which Storr never had, if he had he would have been much. much better then he ever was. There were times when he applied himself, that you would think, “this is the next Ken Dryden” then the next game, even Storr didn’t show up. If Pittsburgh was so worried about screwing up Fleury then why did they let J-S go??? Hate to tell you this, but NO goaltender walks on water or ice for that matter, there will be times with this team when he’ll have some lumps of coal, but after seeing the way that Bill Ranford works with these guys, he’s better off being here.

  • AJ

    it’s not just about what Bernier can do in one game, but whether or not he can withstand the NHL game schedule. Also, can he get enough games in to develop. I say put him back to Juniors, the pressures on an NHL goaltender are not even the same ballpark. Plus, we’re not looking to make a big run until a few years down the line. The risks of an overconfident junior goaltender is far less then an underconfident, rushed goaltender.

  • paincorp

    I like Quisp’s assessment. The cream should be allowed to rise to the top. Would it be crazy to let Beach Ball fester in the ‘A’ for a year? Labs had to. What’s the worst? He ends up getting picked up on waivers and we pay half his salary for the next two years? Well, aren’t we paying his whole salary this year and if he fails, buying him out next year? Why not take the chance (hope) he gets picked up? The worst for Clouts is he gets rehab time and a chance to prove himself like Labs did. Quisp is dead on about fawning over bad investments to attain value. Let it go and move on with what works and makes sense. Otherwise, the same mistake might be made twice…which quite frankly would piss me off.

  • Moondoggie

    The time is now…. I’ve got to agree with most of the above. The kid has earned it, period. If he’s been the best in camp, why shouldn’t he be No.1? Great comment above about Clouts (actually all were), why not sent him to Manchester to work out his injuries and get his timing back? He hasn’t actively played for 3 years. If he can get back into game shape (which I doubt he will) he’s insurance for Bernier and LaBabs, if not, so what? And if they do try to bring Clouts up, oh say after 9 games, that is if they still feel Bernier has another year before he’s ready, and Clouts gets claimed off waivers, then what? Another team picks up his over inflated salary. Nothing to worry about there, no GM could possibly be that desperate. Give the kid a shot, he’s earned it. And stop worrying about his psyche, overconfidence doesn’t seem to be one of Bernier’s problems, just getting enough playing time.

  • David

    You’ve got to love the NHL and their twisted logic once again! “We will allow Bernier to play in the NHL, but certainly not in the AHL, since he doesn’t have four years of Juniors experience.”