Why the Detroit Red Wings might bring back Jonathan Bernier at goaltender

Detroit Free Press

Over the past two seasons, Jonathan Bernier has been the Detroit Red Wings’ most reliable player.

He has provided the goaltending needed for his teammates to have a chance to win games, even as those teammates were prone to defensive lapses and struggled to score. Now Bernier’s contract is expiring, and general manager Steve Yzerman has to decide whether to keep Bernier, or sign someone new. There isn’t a prospect in the organization who is ready for an audition.

For his part, Bernier isn’t wavering.

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“My family and I, we really like it here,” he said on May 20. “I feel comfortable at the rink, on the ice. For me, it would be my No. 1 choice, but it all depends on if Steve wants to keep me or if he wants to try somebody else. But I’d definitely like to stay here.”

Since mid-December 2019, Bernier has posted a .915 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average in 49 appearances, 46 of which were starts.

The one issue with Bernier, 32, has been staying healthy. He suffered an upper-body injury Jan. 28, though that happened because teammate Anthony Mantha ran into Bernier. That sidelined Bernier three weeks. He spent three weeks in sickbay again from March 18-April 8, that time with a lower-body injury stemming from another run-in with a teammate, Patrik Nemeth. During the 2019-20 season, Bernier missed roughly three weeks in January with a lower-body injury.

Bernier is coming off a three-year, $9 million contract. Thomas Greiss, who rebounded from a poor start to post a .912 save percentage and 2.70 GAA in 34 games, was signed last October for two years, $7.2 million.

There are multiple goaltenders who could hit the open market this offseason, but high-profile ones such as Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins) and Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) are either likely to re-sign with their previous teams or make more sense for a team in win-now mode.

If Yzerman wants to bring in somebody younger, Chris Driedger could be an interesting choice. He’s 27, and coming off a two-year, $1.7 million contract. The 6-foot-4 Driedger spent the past two seasons with the Florida Panthers, backing up Sergei Bobrovsky. Driedger went 14-6-3 in in 23 starts with a .927 save percentage and 2.07 GAA in 23 starts this season. He played three games in the playoffs, posting a .871 save percentage and 3.70 GAA, after Bobrovsky failed to impress in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Re-signing Bernier would seem to be the safest route, perhaps on a short-term deal in the $3 million range. Bernier has developed the mental toughness to play on a team in a rebuild, able to block out losing games in a way he wasn’t able to when he was with the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs from 2013-16. He was traded during the summer that the Leafs — the NHL’s worst team in 2015-16 — won the draft lottery and were able to add Auston Matthews, transforming the franchise.

“I lived it in Toronto and the one thing that I regret is being there through the pain but not when they’re better,” Bernier said. “So that’s one of the reasons I want to stay here. All the pain we went through the last couple years, I finally see we are getting better with some great young guys. We are headed in the right direction, and I’d definitely like to stay here.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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