Shortly after the end of the Ducks' season, I made the claim that the biggest offseason concern was sorting out the forward situation. A Poll at the OC Register reveals their readers believe the biggest concern for the postseason is figuring out Hiller's situation, fixing the defense is a close second. A few people mentioned similar concerns in the comments section of my post. Still, I don't think Hiller's health is going to be as big of an issue for the Ducks this summer as others do. Check out my rationale after the jump
The biggest reason the Ducks don't need to worry about Hiller this offseason is that they can't. He has three years left on a 4 year 18 million dollar deal. It's too early to think about a buyout, which would saddle the Ducks with a 1.5 million dollar cap hit for the next 6 years. That might not seem like a lot for a cash team that probably won't spend to the cap anyway, but remember the Ducks still have to pay him that 1.5. That's essentially losing a player for the next 6 years. A buyout isn't practical right now.
Then again, neither is a trade. No one wants to take on a 4.5 cap hit and salary for a guy who might not be able to get between the pipes. Hiller looked great for half a season, but it looks like he won't be able to shoulder a 65 start season. At that point, no one wants his contract.
Let's be honest for a second, Bryzgalov isn't coming back. The limitations of Hiler's contract and Bryzgalov's contract demands, probably 5-6 years at 5+ per, make signing him an impossibility. Giguere's an option, but he's just an older slightly less mobile version of Emery. Realistically, that only leaves the Ducks a couple of options, all of which involve Hiller spending time on the LTIR, using insurance money to cover his salary, and hoping he regains his form. Here are some of the options that have ocurred to me.
Option1: Bringing the Gang Back
The Ducks have a starting goalie under contract for next season, Dan Ellis. Is he Hiller? No. Can he hold down the fort for a couple of good stretches? Yes. That's why the Ducks need another goalie who can start when he's struggling. That goalie could be Ray Emery, and Emery could get a one year, 1.5 million dollar, one way contract. They could split the starts, with the guy who emerges as a clear starter getting the lion's share. This is the easiest solution. Hiller goes on LTIR, and Emery and Ellis have manageable and moveable contracts should Hiller return. I don't think goaltending was the reason the Ducks didn't have a successful postseason. With an improved commitment to defense from the forward corps, this tandem of goalies would be fine for the Ducks while they look for longer term solutions.
Option2: The Youth Movement
Igor Bobkov has made his AHL debut, and maybe he'll wow us at training camp. Timo Pielmeier is a year older and has shown flashes of great athleticism. There's also the recent signing of Iiro Tarkki who has had a few years of success in the Finnish Elite League, and may be more than an AHL option. Personally, I think Bobkov needs to be getting starts at the AHL so he can develop properly, so let's not consider him.
Still, Pielmeier or Tarkki might be used to hold down the fort while Ellis is the starter. This would give Hiller time to come back, without forcing the Ducks to take up another goalie contract that would need to be moved should HIller return. It will give the Ducks a full season to figure out if Hiller can come back to 100%. If he can't be 100%, then the buyout would be less painful. Moreover, if after a year, he decides the vertigo has ended his career, we can say he was given a shot, and then throw mountains of money at UFA to be Pekka Rinne.
Option3: Being Daring
I don't know what the market will be for Tomas Vokoun, but the Ducks should pay attention to it. He's 34 years old, and I doubt he'll get a multi-year deal. No one will be too close to that 5.7 cap hit he was sporting last year. Vokoun has shown a love of warm weather areas. Maybe a team like the Ducks, coming off a playoff appearance, would appeal to him. A one-two year deal in the 3-4 range might not be a bad idea. As long as Hiller is on LTIR, the Ducks can afford it. They can try moving Ellis or even keep him as the backup. If Murray is smart and backloads the deal, he might even be able to move Vokoun if Hiller returns. If Hiller doesn't return, Vokoun buys us a year or two to think of long term replacements.
Overall, I think option 1 is the best one. It provides flexibility and stability. I'm still convinced that The Ducks could accomplish a lot if they simply upgraded their defensive forwards and stuck with Ellis/Emery, or Ellis and some other backup while they wait out Hiller. Hiller deserves a shot to get his career on track. He was having a Vezina caliber season. If he can work it out, then we'll be in great shape going forward. If he can't, the LTIR will provide us the cap flexibility to pursue other options. In the long run, multiple teams have shown how average to slightly above average goalies can get the job done for full seasons. I mean, Chris Osgood has multiple rings. The Ducks have other things they need to fix. Murray is just going to have to figure out how to use more than one phone, and keep his eye on the goalie market, so he can get what he needs without giving up anything to get it.