I contend that Bernie’s problem started two years ago, when he played well, and took the team farther than it deserved to go. But as happens with good goalies playing for poor teams, he burned out. Show me a hall-of-fame goalie, and I’ll show you someone who had good defensive support through his career. It goes like this:
A goalie for a bad team can steal individual games, but he can’t keep it up. His mediocre performances won’t cut it, and the team won’t win. The pressure ratchets up, and he’s asked to steal it for the team each night. Naturally, that fails over the long run. The goalie has a crisis in confidence, or simply loses the desire to try so hard, and quietly gives up. On a good team, if he hangs in there on his mediocre performances, and makes key saves, the team can still win, by ensuring that he’s not the deciding factor. That’s a critical difference, because he goes in knowing he only needs to hang tough and give it his best. He doesn’t need to work miracles. That goalie can stick around a long time, and make a hall of fame career, when he might not start off any better than his less fortunate counterpart.
Bernie was asked to steal it for the team too often, and he came to realize he couldn’t keep it up. I’ve seen it before, and I don’t like the implications. The most likely outcome, to be frank, is that his NHL career is over. You can’t sustain yourself at that level of performance when you lose the mental edge that got you there in the first place. So what to do?
I don’t like to throw anyone under the bus, especially since it was the team in front of him that caused his burnout. Still, at the end of the day, we don’t owe him a living. He’s had a good contract, and if there’s a letdown, its not because we gave up on him, before he gave up on himself. No corporation would wait forever for a burned out employee to recover, and we have even less room for that kind of luxury. Still I’d like to give him a realistic chance to recover.
What I propose is sending him to the minors. There’s a risk he’d be claimed on waivers, and if that gives him a fresh start, so be it. Let’s not stand in the way if he can put his feet on the ground somewhere else. You can’t trade him right now. Nobody would give you anything for him. But let him go to the Marlies, where he can be given numerous starts to sort his game out, and you give him the chance to rediscover the passion for the game. If so, you get back a top-notch goalie. I know it’s a risk, and it might not solve the problem, but I just don’t believe it’s our way to throw a player under the bus without trying to find a way to rehab him, and save his career. Even if we’re not the beneficiaries, it’s good karma to treat people well.
Addendum: I see the choice was to send him down for a conditioning stint. That’s a good interim measure. The problem will be to decide what to do if he doesn’t emerge better.