Should the Los Angeles Kings Trade Jonathan Bernier for Jarome Iginla?

With the trade deadline fast approaching, rumor-season has kick-started into full gear, and speculation from more than one source has the Los Angeles Kings with significant interest in Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla. The asset speculated to go back Calgary’s way? Prized goaltending prospect, and current Kings’ backup to Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier.

From Pierre Lebrun last thursday:

While it’s been widely (and accurately) reported that Boston and Pittsburgh have interest in the Flames captain should he become available, I believe the Kings would be right there in the mix as well and could be willing to dangle young backup netminder Jonathan Bernier.

One would imagine that would interest the Flames since life after Mikka Kiprusoff isn’t far off. But then again, who knows with the Flames?

It should surprise no one that the Kings have interest in Iginla. For starters, L.A. inquired about his ability a few years back only to be told he wasn’t going anywhere. More to the heart of the matter though is Kings head coach Darryl Sutter and his relationship with Iginla from their days together in Calgary.

I think the Kings would want at least a draft pick to go along with Iginla — whose contract expires after the season — in return for a future franchise goalie like Bernier.

(It’s interesting to me that Lebrun thinks the Flames would have to add more to that deal, not the Kings, but moving on). More recently, Matthew Barry reported that Marty McSorely said, “Darryl Sutter really wants Iginla on the Kings,” and then someone else from Hockey Central (I know, it’s getting confusing) mentioned that, “Marty was speculating that the price would be Jonathan Bernier, which would fit if you sent Kiprusoff out.”

Now, if you’ve followed Roberto Luongo-Cory Schneider saga in Vancouver the last few years, you can just imagine the response in LA Kings’ nation. “No! Please! Not our backup goaltender! HOW COULD ANY TEAM SURVIVE WITHOUT A MARQUEE BACKUP GOALTENDER?? I mean without Bernier, who would backup Quick? It would just be like, a black hole! It would only be Quick, and then if he got injured, we would have to play without a goalie because where could you possibly find another backup goaltender, the hardest asset for any team to find right before top-line centers and top defensemen? Or we would have put Dustin Penner in there, which actually… that might work… I’ve changed my mind! Bring on Iginla!

But really, the response is what you would expect. You can’t trade a potential franchise goaltender for a rental. And what if Jonathan Quick gets injured?. To the second argument, I say, well what if Jonathan Quick stays healthy but Jeff Carter gets injured? This team couldn’t score at all before they got Carter, and in that case you would wish you had Iginla. And Carter has more of an injury history than Quick.

The point being, you can’t build your team on what-if’s and in fear of generally healthy players falling injured. The first argument is the more reasonable one, and the more common one you will hear from LA Kings’ fans. But I still believe that people guard their premier backup goaltenders too tightly. When you have one goaltender signed to a (stupid) ten-year, 58-million-dollar contract like the Los Angeles Kings do with Quick, every other team knows he’s your guy long-term, and that you will have to trade your backup eventually.

You are not dealing from a position of strength, and when you look back over the recent history of goaltender trades, the returns teams have gotten reflects this. Miikka Kiprusoff got traded for a 2nd round pick. Vesa Toskala at least netted the Sharks’ a first-round pick, but that was an awful trade for the Maple Leafs and it seems GMs today have learned from that. Anders Lindback, seen by many as an even better goaltending prospect than Jonathan Bernier at the time, was packaged with prospect Kyle Wilson and seventh-round pick for two second-round picks and a 2013 third-round pick. Not a bad return, but if you could trade a couple second-round picks for Jarome Iginla, you probably would, right?

Worse, Ben Bishop only netted a 2nd round pick. Sergei Bobrovsky got a 2nd and two 4th round picks. The Vancouver Canucks’ still haven’t found a deal they’ve liked for Roberto Luongo, although that me be more their fault than the market for goaltenders.

Regardless, most goaltenders, even young, potential franchise goaltending prospects, are not netting star players in return, or huge returns period. Now maybe someone like Cory Schneider is different since he’s seen as something of a phenom, and maybe Jonathan Bernier is closer to that tier of prospect than say Ben Bishop or Sergei Bobrovsky was at the the time each was traded, but Anders Linback was definitely considered on par with or above Bernier’s level, and even he didn’t get any impact players in return. Likewise, Miikka Kiprusoff was much more proven at the time he was traded than Bernier is now, and he only netted a 2nd round pick.

Of course, the LA Kings’ situation is further complicated by the fact that Quick has not played well this year behind a beat-up Kings’ defense following a great 2011-2012 season (calling into question at least in my mind how much of his success was his own doing versus how much of it was the great play in front of him), and Bernier has actually been the Kings’ best goaltender.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, Quick is locked in to a ten-year contract, so it really doesn’t matter who is better. The Kings are stuck with Quick, and unless they want to pay their backup goaltender, who has reportedly already asked for a trade and then backed off that demand once, $3-million or so a year, like the Canucks have been forced to do with Cory Schneider at $4-million a year after years of their GM Mike Gillis’ inactivity on the goaltender front, Bernier is the one they’re going to have to move sooner than later.

And even if Bernier wasn’t coming up for a new contract next year, every season you keep a top-rated backup goaltender and don’t turn him into value that can actually help you on the ice every night during the playoffs, you are wasting value and potentially wasting Stanley Cups, as the Vancouver Canucks can attest to.

For years now, the Canucks have had an elite, contending team that was probably only one piece away from a Cup in 2011, if not other years as well. But instead of turning that value at backup goaltender into that important piece up front (as in another impact top-six forward), they held onto both their goaltenders for the same reason Kings’ fans want their team to do the same now: what if our starter gets injured? Of course Luongo didn’t get injured, as starting goaltenders rarely get injured, and instead of having that key piece up front, on the ice every night, helping their team score goals and win playoff games, the Canucks had that value sitting on the bench (almost) all playoffs, not helping their team at all.

What if you added another quality top-six forward to the Canucks the last three seasons? You don’t think there’s a good chance that changes their fate in the seven-game series they lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals? Or that it maybe gets them passed the Blackhawks more than one of three series between the teams, which would have then likely made the Canucks prohibitive favorites to win it all that season?

Well, it’s the same with the Los Angeles Kings. Believe it or not, they had wasted “value,” or “wasted asset-management,” on their team last season. They had Jonathan Bernier just sitting on the bench the entire playoffs. Value completely wasted, same as the Canucks with Schneider (although yes, Schneider ended up playing a few playoff games in desperation in 2011 and 2012, but he didn’t fare any better than Luongo and it didn’t make any difference, thus it was still wasted value in the games he played because a top-six forward would have been an improvement over what they had, where Schneider really wasn’t, and that’s just the games he played. Most of the games he didn’t even play, so there can be no argument for those games).

Luckily for the LA Kings, they won the Stanley Cup anyway, unlike the Canucks, but it’s the same idea. Both teams didn’t put the best roster they could have on the ice during the playoffs. One team was good enough to win the Cup, anyway, and the other hasn’t been, which they could have likely changed if not for their insistence on valuing the backup goaltender position more than, say, the second-line center position, which is an asset the Canucks likely could have gotten in return for Schneider.

But now, after his new contract, Schneider costs much more than he did when teams inquired about trading for him in 2011, and the Canucks are stuck spending over $9-million-dollars against the cap on the goaltending position, so they have less leverage in dealing either of their goaltenders now that teams know they are in a bind. That may be more than any other NHL team, which means Mike Gillis has let what should have been an advantage over everyone else, having two elite goaltenders, turn into a disadvantage for his team. That’s just awful team-management. And the Kings could be in the same position next year if they don’t deal Bernier now.

Moreover, while the Kings were good enough to win the Cup last year even with a quality asset on the bench, can they count on that happening again this year? The defense hasn’t been as solid this year with Willie Mitchell… missing… somewhere, and Matt Greene out injured as well (never been a huge fan of Greene, but he improved a lot last season and at least didn’t make the rookie mistakes that have led to many goals against the Kings this year like some of his replacements have), plus we’ve seen year after year that the Cup hangover does exist. All it takes is for a couple players to come back less motivated and not in as great condition as the year before, and now the team doesn’t have the same depth as before on the ice, even if it appears they do on paper, and they can’t roll lines the same way.

Which brings us to Iginla, someone who could potentially re-affirm (if you will) the LA Kings’ forward depth. I’ve explained at length why the idea of keeping a quality backup goaltender on your roster year after year rather than turning him into an impact forward or defenseman is a mistake, but why Iginla? Doesn’t the idea that it’s a mistake trading a young player whose rights you still have for a rental player have some merit?

Sure it does. And if if the Kings can trade Bernier for someone younger, and still under contract, who can still improve their top-six, then you do that instead. But that’s the point, players of Iginla’s calibre who are still young and under contract don’t generally become available, and certainly not for a good goaltending prospect. Naturally, if you could trade Bernier to the Winnipeg Jets (who don’t need a goaltender) for Evander Kane, or something like that, you do that instead. But I haven’t heard that rumor, or anything similar. It’s a very barren trade deadline for buyers, so Iginla might be the only real option out there for the Kings.

And if that’s the case, I would do it. You’re going to have to trade Bernier (or Quick, but who wants that contract?) eventually. You may as well do it now and not go any more seasons wasting playoff-roster-value on the bench, like the Canucks have mistakenly done for years now and paid the price.

Even if it’s just for one season, the idea that you could trade your backup goaltender for Jarome Iginla, which in theory should give you fantastic odds at winning a second straight Stanley Cup, seems like smart business to me, especially when you consider that your team is coached by Jarome Iginla’s former long-time coach, and that they have a good relationship, and that there’s a much better chance than with your typical rental that Iginla would re-sign with your team if you had a nice playoff run and made him feel welcome and happy in LA.

Would Kings fans trade Bernier for three or four seasons of Iginla? I bet most would. Granted, he’s already started to decline, albeit slowly, and I don’t think he has quite the top-speed and explosiveness he once did. But Iginla is a power-forward, with such great size, strength, reach, hands and puck-protection ability, not to mention one of the best shots in the league, that I think he could still be a very helpful player in the Kings’ half court, cycle, puck-possessing offense even after he loses his explosiveness off the rush.

Regardless, and this goes for any team, keeping a prized, coveted goaltender on the bench as your backup through multiple playoff runs, rather than turning that asset into a player up front or on defense that can actually help you on the ice, is a mistake, period, and one that can cost you Championships, as it likely has with the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings were able to lift the trophy despite doing it last season, but if they continue to keep Bernier sitting on the bench during their playoff runs, it could cost them a Cup, too.

Written by Shark Circle

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