Whatever Jonathan Bernier did during the all-star break, he should have been doing all summer. In 14 games before the all-star break, Bernier had an .893 Sv%, a 3.08 GAA, and a 3-8-0 record. After the All-Star break, he had a .938 Sv%, a 1.70 GAA, and an 8-0-3 record.. After winning the AHL Goalie of the Year award in in 2009-2010, and having a very impressive short stint with LA near the end of the season when he was called up to replace Jonathan Quick when he had to deal with the birth of his child, and after Quick’s struggles in the playoffs against Vancouver, many fans and pundits were suggesting all summer long that Bernier, the Kings’ 1st round pick in 2006 and tabbed as their goaltender of the future ever since, was going to take over the crease in LA in 2010-2011. But his early season struggles and Quick’s amazing play not only shut all of those people up, but some fans were even wondering if Bernier should be sent to Manchester.
No one was talking like that after the all-star break. It took him a while to adjust to not being the #1 guy for the first time in his life, but even though he was only called upon once in a while (although he did once earn back-to-back starts even though Quick was healthy at the time), Bernier was awesome when he was called upon. He earned more playing time, and clearly, since Murray was willing to play him in big games, more confidence from Terry Murray. He only started one of the Kings’ last 12 games as they were in a dog fight for a playoff spot, but Bernier played very well for the Kings in the second half and won some huge games for them (the shutouts against Phoenix and Edmonton come to mind, oh, and the shutout that he had in Minnesota that resulted in a shootout loss because the Kings simply refused to score for him).
Although overall Quick had an amazing season, he once again struggled in the playoffs (although it’s hard to fault him really, the defense was brutal). Despite playing amazing in the Kings’ two playoff victories over the Sharks, Quick gave up a combined 19 goals in their four losses. Again, it wasn’t all his fault, his team really let him down and they were missing Kopitar, as well as playing a team as offensively lethal as San Jose, but whether it’s fair or not, Quick didn’t bail his team out, and even though Quick has set franchise goaltending records in the last couple of years and was even receiving Vezina consideration, with Bernier turning it on down the stretch and Quick once again showing signs of slowing down, the #1 job is once again in question heading into this season, and some people are wondering if Quick can handle the physical rigors of a full NHL season.
In a recent interview, Terry Murray reinforced that Quick was the #1 guy heading into camp, but that he was very impressed with Bernier and that he’s open to giving him more playing time this year and he could push Quick for the #1 job. It should be a fun battle to watch, and it’s a very nice problem for the Kings to have, especially since both of them, although very competitive and want to play as much as possible, genuinely like each other and want each other and the team to suceed. It’s a good system, and healthy competition is always good.
It’s amazing how much Jonathan Bernier has matured since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons when this was the kid who sulked and pouted when he was sent down. Even in 2009-2010, after the Kings sent him back down after his short but very impressive stint, Dean Lombardi admitted he was worried about how Bernier would react. But apparently his reaction was something like, “I understand. I’ll go down there and do my best. I’ll be ready if you need me again.” Lombardi admits he was floored, and can not believe how far this kid has come in his maturity.
Both of these guys aren’t going to be in LA forever though, they’ll need to choose eventually. I don’t think that time will come this season though. Both have two years left on their contract (at very affordable cap hits, $1.8M for Quick and $1.25M for Bernier), but Quick will be a UFA at the end of it, and Bernier will be an RFA. Will they have this system for two more years and then just let Quick walk and let Bernier take over? Can both of these goalies handle this system for two more years? Quick has stood on his head at times and stolen games for the Kings, but he also allows some stinkers that seem to deflate the team, and he seems to just let things snowball on him when it’s going bad. Bernier clearly has the talent and the mentality (and he’s French-Canadian!) to be an elite starting goaltender in the NHL. He’s also a bit younger and still has a lot of potential to fulfill, and he’s already really good. Quick’s more of a finished product.
Will Jonathan Quick still be the Kings’ starter at the end of the year, or will this be the year Bernier takes over? Will both of them be Kings by the end of the year? Quick is very competitive and worked really hard and came into camp in great shape last year and got off to an amazing start to the season last year when his job was in jeopardy. If Quick’s going to do that again, Bernier’s also going to make sure that he’s playing at the top of his game. With two fantastic young goalies, goaltending is the least of the Kings’ worries heading into this season though, and it’s a great feeling to have considering LA has been a goalie graveyard since, well, forever. It will be a fun battle to watch.