With Viktor Fasth putting up insane numbers and Jonas Hiller's stats being ... not so good, to say the least, where should the Ducks go in the crease?
Goalie controversies can be tricky. In the short term there is no controversy. Viktor Fasth is playing significantly better than Jonas Hiller. I'm not one of those people who say, "The numbers don't lie," because they do, quite often, but in this case the statistics are pretty clear. Fasth's are ridiculously good (0.98 GAA, .962 SV%) and Hiller's are flat out bad (3.54 GAA, .871 SV%). I don't care how much Hiller makes, for now you ride the guy who leads the league in both major goaltending categories.
Long term is a lot murkier. The question is how long you want to wait for John Gibson: American Hero, to be ready and how much you want to pay your goalie in the interim. At some point one of these guys will have to be moved to make room for Gibson. Fasth is under contract for only this season at $1 million while Hiller is locked up for next year as well with a cap hit of $4.5 million.
The entire question of a goalie controversy hinges on the concept that Fasth won't take a nose dive from his outstanding performance (that one goal against Minnesota aside), Therefore we can assume that he will be due for a raise in the summer. Assuming the Ducks can keep him at a rate of, say $3 million for the next couple of years, that would put $7.5 million in the crease for next season. That's over ten percent of the salary cap, which the Ducks will not likely spend to.
In that scenario, you are then looking to trade Hiller's expiring contract for skaters and/or future draft picks in addition to financial flexibility. Of course that is not as easy as it sounds; just ask Mike Gillis how it's going for him with Roberto Luongo. There are a lot of other factors in the Luongo situation, namely his elephantine contract, that don't apply to Hiller. Faced with the potential to lose Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne this summer, the return from a Hiller trade could bridge the gap until some of the younger players (Emerson Etem, Devante Smith-Pelly, Kyle Palmieri, Peter Holland, John Gibson etc.) are able to take this team as their own.
I don't think anyone is willing to make the decision to dump Hiller after only four games, but IF Fasth stays spectacular, AND IF there is a market for Hiller that can improve the rest of the team AND IF Gibson shows that he is truly on his way to the NHL; it may be worth exploring down the line.
Can we admit it? It's not hard to love Viktor Fasth right now. I mean, if anything, for all of the awesome word play that his name offers up.
But in all seriousness, he's 4-0 in his first FOUR starts with Anaheim, the best start for any Ducks goaltender in franchise history. True, we can't expect this to continue, even though we would all love for that to happen, but for the time being I can't imagine anyone is complaining either.
I'm not saying that the Ducks should ditch Hiller, he'd make a fine, and expensive, back-up, but we're talking about their number one guy, who, through his first five games, has allowed 3.54 GAA (39th) and a .871 Save% (38th). If we can put it into a bit of perspective, right now, there are essentially 37 other goalies in the league that Hiller would lose to on any given night.
Looking to the past...
I understand that we have to take into consideration what Hiller has done in the past. However, on Monday night, I believe the Ducks decided to move on from the past and what Hiller has done. Someone who rightfully earned the nickname "Hiller the Shark killer" was surprisingly seated in honor of starting Fasth against San Jose. Perhaps that was because Hiller so kindly allowed four goals on 34 shots (.882 SV% [Ed. Note: Above his season average! -CK]) against Los Angeles Saturday night. Either way, it doesn't seem that Hiller's past is going to mean anything in terms of predicting the future. If anything, his recent history isn't a good sign of things to come.
30 is just a number...
He's getting a lot of attention in the media for his ripe ol' 30 years of age. If that's the argument against him, look no further to his net-minding tandem of Jonas Hiller, set to hit 31 on February 12. That being said, let's remember age is just a number - especially since some of us here at Anaheim Calling are 30 and not happy about it. Quite frankly, I'm not sure that it matters here. If anything, it bodes well for a goaltender that has some experience under his belt, but is NHL fresh. The Ducks aren't looking to a young and inexperienced player, they're looking to an arguably more mature, responsible and hockey experienced goalie.
The Ducks are committed to Hiller and his $4.5 million over the course of the next two seasons, while the Ducks have a cool $1 million tied up in Fasth for this season only. He's set to hit the market, but perhaps the Ducks will consider extending that contract as the season progresses. As for Hiller, 4.5 is an awful lot to spend on a back-up, and they've been through this before. Remember, not too long ago when the Ducks were paying J.S. Giguere a lot more than the guy with the then hot glove? What was his name ... Oh, yeah, Hiller!
The tides changed and despite Anaheim's love affair with the man who stole them countless number of playoff series', won a Conn Smythe and helped to deliver to Anaheim the Stanley Cup, Giguere was moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It just goes to show that history can't help you win in the present and regardless of the glorious nature of what has happened in seasons prior, there's nothing saying that a team can't and won't move you if someone bigger and/or better comes along. I'm not saying the Ducks should consider moving Hiller and his contract, but it shouldn't be because of his ties or his history that they keep him either.
There's always been this talk that the team doesn't perform well in front of Hiller. But have we ever thought to consider that it's because Hiller doesn't play well behind them? I can't say with certainty that this is the case, and it just seems like something I've made note of personally, but the types of rebounds Hiller gives up are, for a lack of a better word, juicy. They're ripe for picking, and any team with a decent bit of net presence is more than likely to pounce on these opportunities.
Sure, that's where a teams' defense comes into play, and the Ducks are often victim to awful clearing attempts, but again, perhaps that's due to the rebounds they are attempting to clear. Hiller's juicy rebounds leave the defense scrambling and battling for a puck right in front of the crease, where a Fasth rebound is often deflected to the corners and the boards where the options become more viable for the defense. Does this happen every time? No, of course not, but it's something I've already taken note of in regards to both netminders.
Look, it's obvious that Viktor Fasth has gotten off to a red-hot start, but that doesn't mean it's time for the Ducks to ditch Jonas Hiller. While Hiller's 0.871 save percentage and 3.54 GAA do not stack up against Fasth's gaudy stats, the fact is that Hiller is, and should remain, our number one goalie. I'm all for splitting time more evenly with Fasth, but given the compacted nature of the schedule, it would be foolish for any team to exclusively ride one goalie over another. Fasth certainly gives the Ducks a luxury in net, but there's no reason to do anything drastic.
For starters, the Ducks owe Jonas Hiller $4.5 million this year and next before he becomes a UFA. The Ducks are not going to be able to just swallow that sort of contract, and while they may find a taker somewhere in the market via trade, it's unlikely that we would get equal value.
In terms of his raw numbers, Jonas seems to be suffering from the same epidemic striking very good-to-elite goalies around the league this season. Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Cam Ward, and Cory Schneider are all off to relatively uninspiring starts this season. It's completely reasonable to think that the lockout has hurt goalies more than anyone else, and that players who were able to get regular reps in the offseason are understandably sharper than many goalies at this point.
Last season, the Ducks rode Hiller so hard that he set a record for consecutive starts and he led the entire NHL in total minutes with 4,253. Jonas has an established track record of success, with save percentages and goals against averages that frequently rank among the best in the league. If it weren't for Hiller last season, it's completely unlikely that the Ducks would have made the furious rally they did. The bottom line is that Hiller has been there and has proven he can handle the pressure, especially in the playoffs. While Fasth has been impressive through the early going, we really don't know how he'll adapt to the pressures of being the main guy in the NHL.
One other thing that I think might be getting lost in talks about Fasth as a rookie is that he's actually only six months younger than Jonas. So it's not as if locking up Fasth long term gives you any sort of young solution for the future. For all intents and purposes, he's the same age as Hiller, but has significantly less experience at the NHL level.
In Hiller's starts, the Ducks have given up an average of 27.2 shots per game and have blocked an average of 15 shots per game. In Fasth's starts, they've given up an average of 26.5 shots per game and blocked an average of 17.5 shots per game. This isn't a huge swing (at most perhaps three more shots per game directed at Hiller than Fasth), but it's also indicative of the fact that the team seems to play a different, stronger defensive style in front of Fasth. I've noticed that Fasth has a tendency to give up big rebounds off long shots, but is better in tight. As the book starts to develop on Fasth, it's likely that teams will learn how to exploit his weaknesses and I fully expect his stats to normalize a bit.
There's no denying that Fasth has dazzled so far. But he benefits from having played during the lockout, from having better defensive play in front of him, and from not having anyone really know how to approach him yet. In about 20 games, I think we'll have a better sense of where both Jonas and Viktor stand in terms of the future. But for right now, there's no reason to do anything drastic with respect to either one of them. After all, one needs only ask Columbus how over-reacting to a season of good goaltending can blow up in your face.