Anaheim Ducks: Do the Numbers Say Trade John Gibson?

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the second period at Honda Center on February 25, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the second period at Honda Center on February 25, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
COLUMBUS, OH – DECEMBER 09: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks makes a save during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on December 9, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. Anaheim defeated Columbus 2-1 in a shootout. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH – DECEMBER 09: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks makes a save during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on December 9, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. Anaheim defeated Columbus 2-1 in a shootout. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

There has been a lot of noise regarding John Gibson’s struggles the past couple of years, and this year in particular. The arguments are simple: (1) He needs more rest, (2) The team in front of him is bad, (3) He’s no longer very good. For those who think he needs more rest, Stolarz is the answer. After all he’s been good right? For those who think the system needs work, a new coach may be on the way next season. For those who think Gibson just may be washed… well father time is undefeated. The actuality of that is much harder to tease out.

What I’ve attempted to do was compare John Gibson’s numbers in each season, and the numbers while he’s on the ice, versus the teams results for the same, in each year. For the question regarding letting Stolarz take more of the load, I’ve compared both players directly.

To do so, first I’ve designated the 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons as good, the 2014-2105 and 2018-2019 seasons as average, and the last three seasons as bad, all based on save percentage at all strengths.

So, with that said, let’s look at how much Gibson plays. In Gibson’s good years he started 62% of the games the Ducks played. In his average years, he started 41% and over the last three seasons he’s started 68% of the games. However, it should be noted that those average games are heavily swung by Gibson’s first season. The 2018-2019 season, the season in which Gibson’s downfall began, was the second highest start percentage of Gibson’s career at 71%. The long and short of it is that in Gibson’s best seasons, he started in closer to 60% of the games, than the 70% he sees in his poorer years. Unironically, this current season, has him starting 70% of games to date. This presents the case, at least at face value, that Gibson may be starting too many games for him personally to perform well, over the length of a season.

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite as cut and dried as the games he’s started. For instance, when comparing seasons in which he’s started 70% or more of games, 60-70% of games and fewer than 60% of games, the findings are relatively similar between the most played seasons. Both seasons in which he’s played 70% or more games or 60-70% of games, Gibson has sported a .913 save percentage.

What this would suggest is that it doesn’t really matter how many games over 60% of the season he is starting in. Although the caveat is as always, the back-to-back argument in which netminders routinely fall off a cliff. It’s also worth noting that .913 is not the save percentage of a franchise netminder who is considered “elite” and is in the running for the Vezina trophy in any given year.

Perhaps, the Ducks and the league in general were taken in by his 2017-2018 season in which he jumped from ~60% of the team starts to ~70%, while maintaining a similar save percentage of his tandem start season. Gibson wouldn’t be the first player to excel during the years leading up to a big contract extension, and drop away as soon as his new “big money” contract kicked in. Before you all kick me to death over that little comment, consider that Gibson’s SV% prior to his current $6,400,000 per season deal kicking in was .920 and in the three seasons since, has been a below league average .905.
The next part of the argument is a little more nuanced. How much of an analysis based on numbers is the system and how much is the personnel? It’s hard to tease out, and certainly near impossible for this kind of short article.

First off, in Gibson’s best years at a netminder, he saw on average 55.8 shot attempts per sixty minutes, and 29.3 shots on net. These are clearly stronger numbers than his average (58.5 CA/60, 32.1SA/60) and poor (57.6 CA/60, 31.4 SA/60) seasons. Gibson has also faced ~1.6 more scoring chances (27.3 vs 28.9) per 60 minutes of play in his rough seasons of late, than when he was an unbeatable wall.

Second, and what is interesting to me, is in that the seasons in which Gibson started 70% or more of the games, the number of scoring chances he saw, normalized to time on ice, increased significantly to his lesser starting years. Specifically, for seasons he started 70% more of games, Gibson saw 29.7scoring chances against. In season’s he started between 60-70% of games, that number dropped to 27.6 per game, and in seasons he started in fewer than 60% of the games, he merely saw 24.7 scoring chances per game. I’m not personally a big fan of expected goals statistics, however, these too follow the pattern: (i) +70% of games started = 3.05 xGA/60, (ii) 60-70% of games started = 2.77 xGA/60 and, (iii) -60% games started = 2.51 xGA/60.

Taken together, at face value, the team has deteriorated defensively in front of him. Which is a bit of a no-brainer given they went from conference finalists icing players such as Andrew Cogliano and prime-aged Jakob Silfverberg as second line players and penalty killers, to a lottery team icing Derek Grant and old-man Silfverberg.

However, the Anaheim Ducks as a team in those seasons presented averages of 56.7 CA/60 and 29.7 SA/60. That is to say, Gibson perhaps saw the easier of the starts in those good years, which again makes some sense as he was the “new” player in a tandem that sported Freddie Andersen. As the more experienced player and the primary option in the 1A/1B scenario, it stands to reason that he would see the stronger teams more often than not.

We’re currently seeing a similar trend with the Ducks current netminders, John Gibson and Anthony Stolarz. Stolarz has presented solid numbers these past couple years, however, upon digging, the team gives up significantly fewer shots and scoring chances against in the games he plays. Stolarz now, like Gibson was back then, is being protected from the better teams.

Overall, this makes sense on a fundamental level. The starting netminder should be good enough to face the best competition, and given that, should be tasked to play against the best competition. Given Gibson’s somewhat poorer results facing these teams as the undisputed starting netminder, perhaps the question should be asked “Should John Gibson be an undisputed starting netminder in the NHL?” The question at present, is murkier than it should be.

Let’s assume that Gibson is maybe the man he’s been the last three seasons, and not the world beating, Jennings Trophy winning, tandem netminder he was at his peak. What if the Toronto isn’t just making noise about not wanting a new netminder? What if the Ducks retained 50% of Gibson’s salary? Would the Toronto Maple Leafs be interested in swinging a deal with the Ducks for Gibson?

It’s arguable that they should, given Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek’s troubles. Over Campbell’s last few games (at time of writing), he’s gone 11-4-3 but has a save percentage of only .893. His back up, Mrazek, sits at .895. these aren’t stellar numbers by any stretch.

I would argue that there is a case for both sides to reach an agreement.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that Campbell has a stronger, although only slightly, career save percentage than John Gibson at present. However, both Campbell and Gibson have had their best seasons when in a legitimate 1A/1B tandem. It’s arguable that the workload of a starter doesn’t suit them, but there can be no doubt that both have struggled in net as the undisputed #1 starting netminder. Should both players return to form, a tandem of Campbell and Gibson could conceivably be an absolute house in net and shore up a current position of weakness for the Maple Leafs.

Going all in on this while the Maple Leaf’s star players are performing and in their prime years should be a no-brainer for the Leaf’s brains trust. The chance for a Cup simply doesn’t come along every year, and neither does the opportunity to add exactly what is holding your team back. Let’s not overreact to Detroit’s comeback from 7-2 to bring the game back to the knives edge only recently, but let’s also not discount it. The Toronto team need better net minding to make it the distance in the post season and bringing in an All-Star could certainly help their cause.

It’s also worth noting that Jack Campbell has one more year on his deal, before more than likely, wanting a significant raise. Thus, having Gibson who has another four seasons left on his deal, particularly if the Ducks retain salary, would provide Toronto with a safety net should Campbell ask for too much. It also would allow them to potentially have two strong netminders for next season as well, extending their playoff window.

The wrinkle would be moving on from Mrazek who has a 10-team no trade list. Perhaps he would waive that to be part of the return for Anaheim, perhaps not. It’s an issue for Kyle Dubas, but not an insurmountable one.

From the Ducks perspective, I’m sure fans would cry tears of lamentation should this trade come to pass. Certainly, they would all claim that you can’t win in the playoffs without net-minding and that Gibson is a strong one. However, Gibson hasn’t seen a save percentage over .918 since the 2017-2018 season, and it’s worth noting again that his combined last three seasons have merely held up a .905 save percentage. It’s a tough call to argue that Gibson is a strong netminder these days. Like so many Ducks of late, Gibson appears to be trading on reputation, and a crumbling reputation at that. Even this season, has been an adventure. Gibson started blisteringly hot, much like the rest of the team, yet over his last 11 games has only four above average starts, and a save percentage of less than .875. Since the Calendar year turned over, fewer than 50% of his starts have been average or better.

It’s also worth considering where the Ducks sit on their timeline to contention. If the assumption is that Gibson would return to form on a better team, that is stronger defensively, or that he would improve in a tandem situation, when will that happen for the Ducks? The tandem question is perhaps most easily answered. Lukas Dostal is the Ducks netminder of the future, yet he’s not quite ready yet and looks to be a season or two away from developing into a player who can easily hold down a ~40 game season with quality in the NHL. He’s going to be a gem, but it’ll take time. So, let’s say we have two more seasons until then. That takes Gibson into his early 30’s, which is the traditional graveyard of netminders who aren’t of the elite. If the assumption is that Gibson requires a tandem situation to shine, we can hypothesis that Gibson is not elite. At worst, his last three seasons allude to that fact.

If the Ducks are looking to make a stronger team and contend, then the timeline they’re on may be anywhere in the 2–4-year span. Players like Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson may no longer be with the team. Ryan Getzlaf would almost certainly no longer be playing. Adam Henrique and Silfverberg will be well into their 30’s and no longer primary scoring threats if they still are now. Much of this team is built around veteran players supporting the young fresh-faced rookies. The rookies will grow, but the support will no longer be there. Currently the Ducks have Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale of their young player group in the NHL, but few others. Troy Terry is 24 and could be 28 before the Ducks make noise as a post season team. Given Rickard Rakell’s current situation at his 28 years old status, more questions remain unanswered than are easily explained. In any scenario, in any time frame that isn’t immediate, Gibson will be in his 30’s and on the downward swing. In four years, he’ll be further on that path.

Perhaps the best scenario is that Gibson is kept for another season until Dostal is ready to be played more regularly in the NHL. However, what if Gibson has another season like this current one? Will he be a player they can get out from underneath? I’d argue that if the Ducks think they may move on from Gibson in the next season or two, then now will be the best time to make that trade. Trading him would mean giving up on the postseason next year in which case it won’t really matter who is in net. They could sign anyone.

Next. Anaheim Ducks: The Very Curious Case of Max Comtois. dark

The trick to the trade will convincing Toronto that Gibson AND Jack Campbell could return to form in a tandem situation. Certainly, it’s been many years since Gibson was in that situation, but it isn’t so far in the rear-view mirror for Campbell. Nonetheless, there is some data to support the argument, and it’s one that might be in the Ducks best interests. What that trade could bring them back is uncertain, but the question is worth asking.