The Flames braintrust went on a little vacation this week. Three days ago, they visited the nation's capital for the Sens-Kings matchup, and took in the Leafs-Lightning game the next day. Of course, social media ate this up, especially with Steven Stamkos' contract situation, but talk switched to a more tiresome topic. Today, various reports suggested that the Flames have been kicking tires on Leafs goalie-in-exile Jonathan Bernier, perhaps as a salary dump move.
Bernier's stock since arriving in Toronto has completely fallen. He was usurped by James Reimer due to his declining performances, and has essentially been forced out of the Maple Leafs' core due to the rise of the dapper looking Garret Sparks. While he did have an excellent stint in the AHL and is still relatively young for a goaltender, his $4.15M contract (expiring in 2017-18) is unattractive.
The bigger issue is that he might be in the way of Toronto's grand plan. Going back to Stamkos, it is looking almost certain that he won't be a part of the Tampa Bay roster come next season. Any GM worth their salary (count Vancouver out) will be after him, but the main hype has the superstar landing in Toronto. If the Centre of the Universe is his preferred destination, Toronto would be stupid not to pursue him. But with only $6M in cap space and one of hockey's unquestioned stars potentially in their hands, they're going to have to make some space.
Enter the Flames. The goaltender situation is temporarily resolved, but not with regards to next year. None of Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, or Joni Ortio are signed for next season, and with Jon Gillies out for the year, it's unlikely he'll be in Calgary for 2016-17. Bernier could be a feasible option if they want to avoid the silliness that played out for the first two months of the season. Should he return to form, the Flames could take advantage of Toronto's own goaltending controversy while stabilizing their own.
If you look at his numbers this year, you might want to preemptively file a restraining order against Bernier on behalf of the team, but it's important to not confuse form with talent. In the past, he has been an above-average goaltender. His play this year is unquestionably bad, but if he can rebound a la Devan Dubnyk, then it's a positive move for the Flames.
But the question is how would either team benefit from a trade? The Flames will take on another big contract for a goaltender who may still be worth something. With a lot of talent needing new contracts, having another $4M+ contract on the books isn't nice. They would have to try and send a bad contract Toronto's way to offset the pricey goaltender.
That could work, but why would Toronto do it? If we're assuming that they're going after Stamkos, they also don't want another big contract on the books. Nazem Kadri and Morgan Reilly will likely also be re-signed this year, so the more cap space the better. Contract-for-contract won't appeal to the Leafs, so it also doesn't appeal to the Flames.
However, a Hiller for Bernier trade is workable. Both goaltenders have been forced out of a starting role, and likely won't see major playing time for a while. Bernier on the Flames would at least give them another option besides riding on Ramo for the rest of the year (we know Hartley will never play Hiller again). Hiller's contract will be a sore point for the Leafs, but the contract does expire at the end of the year, meaning they will still have room for Stamkos.
All of this is contingent on whether or not Bernier rebounds from his bad streak. Would the Flames be taking advantage of Toronto's impatience, or would they be taking on Toronto's problem? The goalie situation was already painful enough. Let's not go through it again.
Plus, should Stamkos go to the Leafs, the Flames would be responsible for that happening. I would feel absolutely sick about that. Don't make the trade.