The Ducks have had a history of incredibly stable goaltending throughout the 20 years of the franchise, beginning with Guy Hebert and his severely underrated run through the 2000-01 season with the club. The following year, J.S Giguere won the battle over Steve Shields and cemented himself as the franchise netminder, collecting a Conn Smythe (02-03) and Stanley Cup (06-07) in the process. In 2008-09, Jonas Hiller emerged on the scene, backstopping the Ducks against the #1 seed San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, and instilled enough confidence in the management in Anaheim to award him a 4 year extension for big money, forcing Giguere in an injury plagued year, out of the OC. Ironically, the streaky play would follow Hiller throughout his tenure with the Ducks, and combined with their embarrassment of riches between the pipes in Fredrik Andersen and John Gibson, would be his undoing.
Some Ducks fans seem to be a bit worried in seeing a goalie who backstopped a team to 14 game win streak in the 13-14 campaign head north to Calgary, leaving Anaheim to a young duo of relatively inexperienced goalies with a grand total of 40 appearances in the NHL. However, I am looking toward the bright, nearly blinding, side of this goaltending situation for a variety of reasons.
Change in Approach
Hiller plays with a bit more flash between the pipes as opposed to the calm, cool, and compact styles of Andersen and Gibson. Hiller, standing at 6’2, looked content to play deeper in the crease, making more reflex based saves and has the athleticism to make many highlight reel saves. An average game or an off-night, however, gives the opposing team a chance to take 2 points from the Ducks, by virtue of bobbled pucks, increased rebounds, or as we saw late in the season, attacks at the net starting with the puck in the corner or from behind the net. Also, with this increase of rebounds puts a heavier burden on the defense, having to tie up sticks and clear an increased number of rebounds from in front of the Ducks net.
Andersen and Gibson, who both have the size advantage over Hiller, play more aggressive on top of their crease, making them appear even bigger in the net than what the Media Guide may say. This relegates perimeter shots to be played more central to their stance, making it easy to negotiate rebounds to the corner or freezing pucks for draws. They don’t rely on athleticism to make saves, but both have that ability in their tool box to bail themselves out when needed. This compact and controlled game can lead to a more consistent game, something the guys on the bench can get behind, as when either goalie is making each save with ease, the bench gains that much more confidence with whomever is between the pipes.
2 for the Money
Hiller earned a payday after his streak at the end of the 2008-09 season and playoffs to the tune of a 4yr/$18mil extension (per CapGeek). Since then, he amassed only 1 60+ game season under his belt (2011-12), and could only get the Ducks as far as the second round of the playoffs. Removing goalies who played less than 25 games, Hiller would have finished 23rd in GAA (2.48), and in 30th in Save Percentage (91.1%). Considering the 14 game win streak he was in net for, these stats are not that impressive. His streakiness between the pipes and his inability to remain healthy for a full season, gives the Ducks the chance to play with house money with their youth, for a shade under $2 million. At worst, Andersen and Gibson will split time (LaBarbera sprinkled in with some spot starts), which wouldn’t be any different than what the Ducks have endured with Hiller in his time with the club, albeit at a much cheaper rate.
Back To The Promised Land
Seeing the young tandem gain experience in the Playoffs against Dallas and the (pains me to write it) eventual Cup Champion Kings, and perform admirably at that, should only give Ducks fans nothing but confidence moving forward into the youth movement. Both have been exposed to big regular season contests, both have played in elimination games, which will be the most pressure a goaltender will face outside of playing in a Stanley Cup Final. While this may not have been by design, the experience will only help the duo to further their development in the NHL, and push each other through the process. With a new look, young, revamped roster up front, these two look poised to help lead the Ducks to the franchise’s 2nd Cup. The only question that remains… Who will be in net to get it? While I’m more than content with whoever gets the Ducks to the Cup, if I had to predict, both split time up to the All-Star break, but Gibson will take the reigns as the #1 going into the playoffs.