Don’t read too much into the Los Angeles Kings’ decision put goaltender Dan Cloutier on waivers today, other than he’ll almost certainly start the season in the minors this season. Considering the NHL’s goalie glut (and the two years left on Cloutier’s contract at $3.1 million per season), there is virtually no chance that anyone would put in a claim for his rights at that price, at this time of year.
No, mostly the decision to waive Cloutier was made to give the Kings some options, should they decide to keep 19-year-old Jonathan Bernier for at least the start of the season, something that became increasingly more likely today.
Cloutier missed most of the past two seasons as a result of injuries – to his right knee and then to his left hip - and he played the previous year in Austria at a comparatively low level.
“The reality is, he hasn’t played for three years,” said Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi. “The only way to really get his rhythm back and to get him where he needs to be is to get him to play. You see this in baseball all the time, where established pitchers have to do a form of rehab assignments if they lose their fastballs and the only way to get it back – to get totally confident – is to go back to the minors and do it.
“Obviously, we gave this a lot of thought. The bottom line is, we thought this was the only way we could get him back to where he was comfortable. Physically, he’s totally healthy. But as we all know with goaltending, a lot of it has to do with his confidence and his state of mind. The only way he was going to get it all together was to play and to play a lot and not have to do it at this level.”
Kings’ coach Marc Crawford indicated the other day that Bernier’s play in the exhibition season – he’s played well in two 30-minute appearances thus far – turned the competition in goal from a three- to a four-man race: Bernier, Cloutier, Jason LaBarbera and J.S. Aubin.
Bernier is their future, something even Cloutier knows. To keep him on the roster all year would represent something of a gamble, however, given the fact that Bernier’s probably miles ahead of everyone else, after playing in the Junior Summit series for Canada.
However, they could easily start the season with him on the roster to see how he adjusts. If Bernier falters once the pace of NHL play picks up, they could always return him to junior before he plays his 11th game, after which his contract will kick in for the full year.
That, in turn, would give Cloutier time to regain his form in the minors. There is a small gamble involved in bringing Cloutier back once the season begins because, as part of the re-entry waiver process, any NHL team could pick him up for half the price of his contract, with the Kings getting nicked for the other half – both the cash and the salary-cap hit. Cloutier, at half the cost of his contract, might be worth the gamble for a team looking for a back-up (and not willing to run the risk on deploying a kid). Calgary is one team that comes to mind.