Goalie controversies have the potential to be a real distraction for NHL teams, even to the point where it negatively impacts the club's on-ice performance.
After a successful 2013 season (19-8-5 record, .924 SV%) in which he played a major role in the Toronto Maple Leafs ending their nine-year playoff drought, James Reimer will once again need to prove he's the team's No. 1 goalie when Jonathan Bernier battles him for the position in training camp.
Even though Reimer almost led the Leafs to a remarkable first-round playoff upset over the Boston Bruins, Toronto still decided to make a goaltending move by acquiring Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings during the Stanley Cup Final. He was re-signed to a two-year contract on Friday.
The result of this trade is a goalie controversy that will likely dominate headlines throughout the 2013-14 season.
For some teams, a healthy competition for the starting goalie role can be a productive situation and elevate the performance of each player. It also helps coaches see how these players handle the mental challenges of having to win a job at the NHL level.
But for the Leafs, adding Bernier has created a situation where it will be quite difficult for Reimer to feel comfortable, even if he earns the starting job for Game 1 of the regular season.
After every bad goal and each poor performance, there will be media and fans in the hockey-crazed market of Toronto wanting Bernier to get a chance. A media circus with constant attention and questions directed at the goaltending situation is inevitable. We got a preview soon after the deal was made (image per Ian Shantz of the Toronto Sun).
Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle recently addressed his goaltending tandem in a Toronto Sun article from July 1:
Carlyle doesn’t think James Reimer should have his nose out of joint because the team acquired Bernier.
“We shouldn’t look at it as slighting anybody,” said Carlyle. “You make decisions and you make moves to add depth at a position that is very important. I don’t know if you can stress how important goaltending is.
There's nothing wrong with having strong depth at the goaltender position, but if the Leafs wanted to acquire another goalie from outside the organization, they shouldn't have brought in a No. 1 caliber player such as Bernier if Reimer was also part of the team's plans for 2013-14.
The smarter move would have been to acquire a veteran backup to give Reimer a rest when needed, mentor him and allow for stability at the position to develop.
This Bernier deal is the kind of move that displays the lack of confidence the front office has in Reimer. If he was the solution to the team's longtime quest for a No. 1 goalie, this trade wouldn't have been made. Not only did general manager Dave Nonis show a lack of belief in Reimer with the Bernier trade, he also gave the Quebec native a bigger contract, with a salary $1.1 million above that of his counterpart.
Both Reimer and Bernier have spent the last three years trying to prove that they are legitimate No. 1 goaltenders at the NHL level. The guy who doesn't start regularly next season is probably going to be unhappy, which has the potential to create unneeded distractions.
The good news for the Leafs is that both of these goalies are well-mannered players who display a calm demeanor on and off the ice. But as fierce competitors motivated to be a No. 1 goalie, there will likely be a point where the backup isn't going to be content with his situation.
Two goalies on the same team who deserve to be a starter isn't the ideal situation for a playoff contender—just ask the Vancouver Canucks.
The Leafs took a huge risk acquiring Bernier and creating a goaltending controversy, one that has the potential to ruin the team's chances of advancing past Round 1 of the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference next season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. Salary information via CapGeek.