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New Jersey Devils Sign Jonathan Bernier to Two Season, $8.25 Million Contract

The first announced free agent signing of the day by the New Jersey Devils is for goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The team confirmed he has been signed to a $8.25 million contract over two seasons. This post is a reaction to the signing and goes into what Bernier did in Detroit for the last two seasons.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Detroit Red Wings”n”n
Jonathan Bernier will be in a different shade of red: a New Jersey Devils shade of red.
Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the New Jersey Devils have signed goaltender Jonathan Bernier to a two-season contract worth $8.25 million for a cap hit of $4.125 million. The New Jersey Devils officially confirmed this signing on their website with those contract details earlier this hour. Bernier will be paid $3.6 million next season and $4.65 million in the following season.

General Manager Tom Fitzgerald stated after the NHL Draft on Saturday that one of the team’s needs was to sign a “1B goaltender.” Bernier will figure into that role as he shares the crease with intended 1A goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood. That stated, spending $8.25 million for any “1B” goaltender is quite high even with the short term. Other veteran goaltenders have been signed for far less today and could possibly provide similar results.

That stated, Bernier’s most recent season was not as bad as you may think for someone who was mired with a really bad Detroit Red Wings team. It was quite good. In 5-on-5 situations and among goaltenders who played at least 500 minutes last season at Natural Stat Trick, Bernier ranked 18th with a 92.3% save percentage, he gave up 48 goals in 5-on-5 when he was expected to give up a bit over 47, and his Goals Saved Above Average for that group was positive at +3.54. He accomplished this in 24 games with the Red Wings, who again, were really bad last season. In 2019-20, Bernier played in 46 games and posted a 92.1% (32nd) save percentage in 5-on-5, gave up 81 goals with an an expected goals against over 78, and posted a GSAA of +2.04. These are rather good results for 5-on-5 situations given the lack of quality in Detroit in the last two seasons.

As for shorthanded situations, goaltending stats can vary wildly. However, Bernier posted a 86.3%, which was on par with Blackwood in shorthanded save percentage in 2019-20. Last season, he was a bit more successful at 86.8%. Both those save percentages were around the league median in their respective seasons. What this tells me is that Bernier is not likely going to be a problem in 4-on-5 situations. Which makes sense because goaltenders tend to be victimized by the penalty killer’s failings more than their own issues with making stops in shorthanded situations.

To quote Peter at Winging it in Motown when it was revealed that Bernier would test free agency, “The last two seasons, Jonathan Bernier has played a major role in keeping Detroit in most games that he played.” The numbers match up with this assessment. They may have not been among the best in the league, they were good. To further back this up, Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy posted this heat map of his last three seasons, which is quite good for a goaltender. This is not a case of the Devils taking a chance on a goalie and hoping a change of scenery will improve his cause of stopping shots. He has been in relatively good form in recent seasons.

Bernier is 32 (and will be 33 soon) so there is reason to believe he can maintain that form. He also fits the role that one would want for the “1B goalie” role. He is more than capable of being good in more than just spot duty. He is a veteran in the NHL and so he should know how to prepare himself. Moreover, he just served a “shared net” duty in his time in Detroit, so he knows what to expect here.

The only issue I have with the signing is the money involved. I understand that Bernier may fit in real well in splitting time with Blackwood. However, $8.25 million is a lot of money to spend for a player for that role. Other veteran goaltenders who could provide similar or slightly less effective goaltending have been signed for less today. Should Bernier struggle a bit, this contract is going to look worse and those still in “sticker shock” at the price will be further justified at that shock.

The mitigating factor is the term. It is only a two-season contract. If the worst case scenario happens and Bernier is bad, then a buyout is a viable option. A trade is not out of the question, although it may require taking on some of the money to make it work. That stated, my issue is a minor one. The Devils have a lot of cap space so they can easily afford an overpayment for Bernier. Given Blackwood’s current contract, the Devils are not spending an excessive amount on goaltending with respect to their roster and the salary cap. Again, the two-season term means that this deal will not necessarily undercut anything the Devils need to do next season. Should it go sour, the Devils are not going to be dragged down by this contract.

In general, I like this signing. It addresses a glaring need on the roster. Bernier’s time in Detroit was better than I first thought given Detroit’s struggles. He has the experience to handle the role but he is not so old that we should be fearful of a sudden downturn in performance. While $8.25 million is a lot of money, it was far from the worst thing the Devils could have done today at goaltender. Such as signing Martin Jones.

I welcome Jonathan Bernier to the Devils and wish him the best. Now that you know what I think of this signing, I want to know what you think of it. Do you like this signing? Do you like the idea of signing Bernier but dislike the actual contract? What do you expect Bernier to do for the next two seasons? Please leave your answers and reactions to the Jonathan Bernier signing in the comments. Thank you for reading.