Anaheim Ducks Putting John Gibson in the AHL Would Be Incorrect Move


Earlier this week, ESPN Hockey Analyst and TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun tweeted that when Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson returns from a groin injury, the team would place him in the AHL for the remainder of the season. This left some scratching their heads as to why the Ducks would look to make this move. Should the report be true, it would be one of the most interesting and polarizing decisions the Ducks front office has made in a long time.

Gibson has been shelved since he suffered a groin injury during warm-ups against the Colorado Avalanche back on November 2nd. Very little information has trickled out on his rehab. The old adage goes “No news is good news”, and many Ducks fans hope that holds true. Gibson could be back, at earliest, during this next five-game Canadian road trip, and he should be expected back before the start of the New Year. The Ducks have an eight-game homestand from December 28th through January 16th and don’t leave Southern California until January 27th. It is very possible that Gibson is back during that stretch. Expect Gibson to report for a conditioning stint in the AHL before he returns to make starts in the NHL, but the Ducks should not look to do anything more than that for Gibson in the AHL.

When Gibson was taken 39th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Ducks, fans were interested in watching the phenom develop. After seeing him almost single-handedly guide the US Under-18 team to a gold medal at the 2011 World Junior Championships, fans couldn’t wait for him to arrive. When Gibson made his debut in the Ducks’ organization last season, he began by taking the AHL by storm. Gibson played in 45 games for the Norfolk Admirals, posting a 21-17-4 record with a 2.34 GAA and a .919 SV%. The Ducks made waves by calling Gibson up late in the season, giving him three starts in the final four games of the regular season. He went 3-0-0 with a 1.33 GAA and .954 SV%, posting a shutout in his first career start and clinching the Ducks’ Pacific Division crown in his next one.

Gibson did not begin the playoffs with the Ducks’ NHL club. However, Gibson played for the Admirals to begin, leading the eighth-seeded Admirals to an upset over the top-seeded Manchester Monarchs. In 6 games, Gibson went 4-2 with a 1.45 GAA and a .955 SV%. With Frederik Andersen getting injured in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Kings, Gibson got called up and started the remaining four games of the series while the team was down two games to one. In his first Stanley Cup playoff start, Gibson posted a 28 save shutout over the Kings to tie the series at two games apiece. Gibson also won Game 5 but dropped a close Game 6. In Game 7, the Ducks team had a terrible collapse, and nobody played their best, Gibson included: he allowed four goals on 18 shots before being pulled for Jonas Hiller. Gibson finished the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-2 record, 2.70 GAA, and .919 SV%.

Gibson was expected to compete for the starting goaltender job in the 2014-2015 season with Andersen. His opening night statement, however, was a dud in Pittsburgh, as he allowed six goals on 39 shots. However, in his defense, he had very little help from his blue-line in the contest. He played in three more games before the groin injury, going 2-1-0 with a 1.02 GAA and .964 SV%. He allowed three goals in those three starts combined, one of which was a 38 save shutout over the Chicago Blackhawks on October 28th. It seemed Gibson was perhaps turning a corner before the injury. Stashing him in the minors, where he has already proven his worth, seems counterproductive.  Gibson has succeeded at the AHL level and passed that test with flying colors. Starting “everyday” in the AHL means two or three starts per week, usually with a back-to-back involved. He has proven he needs better competition than other AHL players, and he should be tested in the NHL.

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Gibson has impressed in limited action, but even if the sample size is limited, none of the other Ducks goaltenders have done enough to suggest Gibson wouldn’t be able to help this team right now. Andersen has done well taking on full time responsibilities, but he has also made 15 consecutive starts and has not been in the sharp form he was at to begin the season. Andersen has shown flashes of brilliance and kept the Ducks in the games, but he has also had multiple moments where it’s clear he isn’t ready to be the full-time number one goalie.  When Gibson went down, it was a perfect opportunity for Andersen to cement his spot in between the pipes. So far, he has played well, but he certainly hasn’t separated himself from Gibson. Andersen and Gibson make a great tandem and push each other to be at their best every night. As the Ducks currently are, Andersen knows he’s getting the nod most nights. Having someone push him and maybe give him a little rest could do wonders. Fatigue could also become a factor for Andersen, both now and into the season because there is nobody else on the Ducks currently who can spell Andersen well. Current backup Igor Bobkov has yet to make his NHL debut, and he hasn’t had a particularly strong season (1-4, 4.70 GAA, .842 SV% in Norfolk).

If the Ducks intend on contending for a title this season, they cannot ride Andersen like they have been for the remainder of the season. Bobkov, Jason LaBarbera (who is out with a broken hand), and current PTO invitee Ilya Bryzgalov are not the answers. Bobkov still struggles at the AHL level: he’s raw and has a lot of natural talent, but he still has a lot of development left if he is to become a solid goaltender. LaBarbera was brought in as a veteran mentor to the very young duo of Andersen and Gibson, but he was also seen as the AHL starter and mentor to Bobkov. LaBarbera has played well in limited action, usually spelling Andersen on nights when he struggled. However, LaBarbera is out for a bit longer with his own injury.

The Ducks’ chances of winning a Stanley Cup are vastly improved with Gibson instead of LaBarbera, Bryzgalov, or Bobkov. The Bryzgalov move was a particularly odd one. It could potentially be a tactic to stir Andersen up a bit. Bryzgalov hasn’t been officially signed to a contract, as he is just with the Ducks on a tryout basis. However, the front office could be showing Andersen that they can bring in a veteran goaltender should he not have his stuff each night. Bryzgalov is not what he once was: anyone expecting the 2007 version that held the fort for the Ducks until Jean-Sebastien Giguere returned should think again. He may still be a serviceable goaltending option, but there is little reason to believe that he would be better than Andersen or Gibson are right now.

The Ducks recognized that they were a win away from the Western Conference Finals last season, but they also realized that they needed to improve to become true Stanley Cup contenders. The team brought in Ryan Kesler this summer and made other moves, from replacing veterans and giving young players a chance. There is no question that, when healthy and on top of their game, the Ducks are one of the best teams in the league. They can play with and beat anyone, and a Stanley Cup is real possibility this season. The Ducks are atop the NHL standings with 41 points, but there is still room for this team to grow even further. If this report is true, the Ducks will not be playing the best team they can possibly field. The team made a concerted effort to give young players a chance to produce, yet they are going back on that decision now. The Ducks are a better team with Gibson now than without him, and their chances of winning the Cup at the end of the season are also better with him than without.