As I feared, Bernie has returned, unchanged. My fear all along has been that he was permanently disillusioned two years ago, when he tried to carry the team on his back, and ended the season with an injury. With some people, an untenable situation puts them into the mindset that they lose that competitive fire. They almost never get it back.
A decision is in order, or will shortly be in order. Between you, Brendan, and the board of directors, you have to decide, privately of course, whether this season is indeed a write-off. That decision may have already been made, and it would not surprise me if I was not informed. It would have to be kept close to the vest. But here are some thoughts on the topic.
At one level, you may say, “Yes, the season’s a writeoff,” and give Bernie every chance, all year, to get his game back. If he makes it, great, if not, you waive him next year, and possibly lose him. That only gives you more cap space to waste on Stamkos, who’s never going to earn what his next contract pays him. Still, there are no guarantees, and my gut says that not a lot of teams would take Bernie right now.
But what concerns me is that writing the season off will undermine the impression of invincibility that Mike carries with him, and is building with the team. That’s worth more than a goalie, or a high first round pick. This young team believes they can win most any game, if they have solid goaltending. And if they make a good run for the playoffs, or even qualify, it will be invaluable in the confidence it gives the group. Chemistry will improve, frustrations will melt away, and when the young talent eventually fills those empty slots, they’ll be off to the races. Writing off the season could undercut all that.
Why is that relevant? Because if you don’t want to write off the season, the leash that Bernier has is a lot shorter. Two more weak starts, and you have to waive him, to send him down long-term. It would otherwise send the signal that you’re not serious about winning, and that would be damaging.