It’s that time of year folks. NHL hockey is merely hours away and the Ducks will kick of their 2017-2018 Stanley Cup campaign tomorrow night. We’ve all got the fever and now it’s time to feed it with some good-ol’ roster analysis.
The Ducks have built their identity on defensive hockey, and I prefer my teams built from the net out… so to the tenders. It’s a pretty shallow list, but let’s take a look at who they are and what their role will be for the season. We offer up a depth chart with zero knowledge behind Coach Randy Carlyle’s or General Manager Bob Murray’s thinking.
John Gibson – The Undisputed Starter
If the star player, captain, and scoring stud muffin with all that dad strength, Ryan Getzlaf, is the engine that makes the Ducks go, then John Gibson is the brakes that keep them safe and on the right track. Touted from the draft as the Ducks goalie of the future, Gibson was signed to team friendly - and this seasons potentially best value in the league contract - $6.9 million ($2.3 million x 3 year) deal.
From there he has done nothing except excel. As the younger, cheaper, and better, performing net minder in a Jennings Trophy winning year, he was handed the keys and starting role last season. All he did was increase his overall save percentage, from an excellent .920 to a mind blowing .924. Only 2 players played in more games and recorded a higher overall sv%: Sergei Bobrovsky (.931) and Brayden Holtby (.925), which is pretty reasonable company to be in. Gibson started 11 more games than the previous year and increased his minutes by nearly 650 overall, allowing him to throw down 6 shutouts with a 6th most (=4th really) in league ranking.
All added up, Gibson stopped 15 goals better than league average (6th best performer in the league) which went a long way towards securing the Ducks identity as a defensive juggernaut.
The key to Gibson’s upcoming season will be the health of his creaky groin. With the player still suffering from the ill-effects of poor management early on in his professional career, there should be some concern regarding his ability to stay on the ice. In this respect, there has been some
slanderous gossip talk of him not taking his craft seriously. However, at only 24 years of age and already among the franchise leaders for save percentage (first), goals allowed average (first), shutouts (fourth), the story shows a talented young player who is dominating his position in a manner unseen by this franchise. Lofty words for a franchise that is seemingly a goalie factory, yet there should be no doubt that “Big Daddy” Gibson has the potential to be the Ducks King Henry.
If there is to be a point of improvement in Gibsons game, it will have to be the number of quality games he puts up. Obviously, 6 shutouts is astounding for such a young player, however the other side of the coin shows that only 28 of his starts finished with a save percentage above .885. Granted, while most players who had a greater number of quality starts played in more games (avg = ~10 more games played), this number still rated Gibson at a lowly 17th overall in the league. Adjusted this figure for games played, improves this metric to a slightly better 9th overall. Expect Gibson to improve on his consistency and move into the top 5 in the 2017-2018 season.
Nonetheless, these simple stats don’t truly tell the entire story of Gibsons importance to the Ducks championship goals. The Ducks are typically a highly penalized team, ranking (last season): #2 PIM with 934; #1 short-handed attempts with 281, and; #1 short-handed attempts per game with 3.43. The reasons are myriad, but a slower skating team that plays on the edge is always going to attract attention. This is unlikely to change this season, with the Ducks getting older and slower (due to age and/or injury), the current administrations (GM to head coach) preference in playing style, and the league wide crackdown on slashing-type penalties.
On top of the numerous penalties taken, coach Randy Carlyle has traditionally employed a passive box system of play while short-handed. It’s a style he replicated with the Ducks again last season, and given his historically powerful love of never changing his playbook, there is a good chance he employs it again - something to look for early in the season. The system lends itself to opening up center ice for open-look opposition shots straight in front and between the dots. Case in point would be the Calgary Flames playoff series of last season, when Sean Monahan was allowed to tee off to his hearts content to devastating affect. In addition to poor systems play, one of the Ducks primary penalty killing forwards (cough Kesler cough) is often flirting with the bottom-five rank for shots allowed on the penalty kill.
Thats a lot of preamble to say that - once again - traditionally Gibson is damn good. Good enough to be considered #5 on THN Vezina Trophy Candidates list. He papers over all the flaws and somehow, against all odds, makes this train wreck look good. Over the past 3 years, Gibson has stopped pucks at a very fine 93.1%, which is astounding for such a young tender. On a team this heavily penalized, the man who can make the penalty kill look relevant should be getting showered with accolades, adoration, and love. However, as a caveat, it should be noted that the coaching change from Coach Brodreau to Coach Carlyle did impact negatively Gibson in this regard: 2014-15 = .923; 2015-16 = 1.000; 2016-17 = .906. It will remain to be seen whether Gibson can recapture the magic he had under Bruce Brodreau, however this facet of play will be a key feature in the Ducks success this season.
It is worth noting that despite the dramatic decrease in PKSV%, Gibsons overall SV% improved from the previous year, suggesting development in other facets of his game. Gibson was a wall on the power play, amongst the league leaders for PPSV% with only 3 players ahead of him in the rankings last season, playing in more than 20 games. While the Ducks seemingly rarely get power play opportunities, its a comfort to know that should the puck handlers make a mistake or turn the puck over, Gibby is there to bail them out. The potential is there to really let the offense take some risks with that kind of safety in the backend. Ditto at even strength, as Gibson improved his ESSV% by a huge margin (.918 to .928) between seasons.
Should Gibson succumb to injury for a length of time though.....
Ryan Miller – The Guru
Rumours of GMBM’s desire to bring Miller to the Ducks have seemingly been floating since his phenomenal Olympic games performance, and this off-season Murray got his man. Murray in part justified the acquisition of Miller by throwing his starting goal tender under the bus, criticizing a lack of work ethic and professionalism, and deflecting blame from his own mishandling of Gibson’s early professional development.
Nonetheless, Miller has a reputation as an athlete who works hard and keeps himself in excellent condition. A reputation that would have carried a lot more weight 10 years ago before professionalism in sports increased. Professional athletes in today's sports teams train under dedicated full-time staff who are capable of assessing the sport and the player to determine their needs for perfect performance. A hobby such as surfing (in Andrew Cogliano’s case) or yoga (for Miller) can contribute to an athletes overall well-being, and in the case of Miller’s yoga can bring calmness under pressure in the guise of mindfulness - if its good enough for special forces operators, its certainly good enough for crazy-as-a-bag-of-cats goaltenders [Ed. Note: That one got me good -JC]. But this shouldn't be a defining factor in acquiring a player and if it truly is a big reason for the acquisition, the management and health of the franchise should be questioned.
However, if we ignore Miller the love guru and focus on Miller the goaltender, what do we have?
As the starting goaltender for the Canucks he put up below league average numbers (.914), which is a slight dip on the Ducks back up last season in Jonathan Bernier. This is likely due to the higher number of games started resulting in save percentages of under .850 (Miller 7 vs Bernier 4). This isn't entirely a kiss of death given Gibson also had 7 bad starts over the season, and that Bernier started in less games than Miller. Miller’s numbers are close enough to Bernier’s across the board for there not to be too much of change in goaltending performances (see figure below), however there is some movement in Goals Saved Above Replacement with a dip of 1.66 coming into this season. Similarly percentage of quality starts dips from Bernier's 0.576 to Millers 0.481. It’s not too crazy to suggest that Bernier’s goaltending was at times the reason the Ducks stayed in the playoff race - mid season when Gibson was on the shelf. Given the Ducks lack of scoring the past couple years and the little change to rectify that this coming season, the reduced number of quality starts could result in missed standings points. That is to say, high scoring teams can overcome those poor starts but the Ducks are not likely to be a high scoring team. The Ducks will need Miller to tighten up and provide more consistent goaltending than he did last season.
Millers last season as an above-average starter was in 2013-2014, one of only two above average seasons in his career. A statistic I personally found amazing given how highly he's been rated over his career, is that he currently has the 4th most career wins amongst active goaltenders. However, as a backup his career average of .915 and the past 3 season average of .913 are about the mark compared to his new peer group. His 2 million dollar, two-year contract was mid-range for dollars/value when he signed it, and while not the best backup goaltending deal signed at the time, it wasn’t the worst either. It shouldn't prevent the Ducks from doing what they need to do.
As a clear point of difference from last season, Miller also picked up an additional 18 PIM over Bernier’s 4 PIM, which was good for being #1 penalised goal tender in the league. Notable, because if there’s anything the Ducks can use more of its veteran moxy, leadership and direction towards the penalty box. Importantly, Miller let in a goal on 10% of the shots he faced short handed, just outside the top 30 net minders (adjusted for minimum 20 games played, 47th overall) in this metric. Frightenly as this might be for the Ducks, the other aspect of special teams was Millers bugbear. A .852 PPSV% on a power play as poor as the Ducks could be frightening, and is likely to result in “safer” play with the puck on stick in the offensive zone. The ramifications may be a reduction in scoring, compounding an already anaemic offence. However, if the Ducks can somehow stay out of the box and continue the trend of not drawing penalties, Miller can likely keep them in the game. He managed to keep the pucks out at 92.4% in even strength play, with only 22 net minders (adjusted for a minimum of 20 starts) could beat that mark last season.
Ducks fans should hope for unspectacular, yet steady, goaltending given Miller’s career to date, and that he’ll be backstopping a Carlyle-coached team. It will likely help his cause that he’ll have a plethora of talented defensemen in front of him, however he's likely to see a lot of rubber in his first few starts. Particularly, during early season while the teams #2 shot blocking defenseman (Sami Vatanen), and their probable #1 overall defenseman (Hampus Lindholm), are on the shelf recovering from off-season surgery.
There should be no mistake, and no questions asked about it; Miller will not be challenging for the starters role.
Reto Berra - The No. 1 overall 2018 draft pick
I jest, however if Berra is backstopping the Ducks for any length of time, something has gone horribly wrong and it’s time to start looking at the draft (not for nothing, there are some wonderful Finnish pivots that will be on offer in the top end), as the wheels will have well and truly come off.
Berra managed to sneak into more games during the pre-season due to an upper body sustained by his much older counterpart, Miller. While it is unlikely that this means anything long term, it may prove to be beneficial if the franchise needs to call on Berra throughout the season, as being somewhat familiar with Randy Carlyle’s playbook should be a boon. That said, how should he be expected to perform? Last season, Berra didn't play many games and was utterly awful in those that he did, ranking 80th overall for GAA and 83rd for SV%. These marks come on the back of a .667 PKSV%, a .909 PPSV% (hey not bad!) and .880 at even strength. If there is some faint praise to be found its that he only performed poorly (as assessed as a SV% below .850) in 2 games that he started this season. Meaning the goals came in bunches and blow outs rather than merely a lot each game.
In the 2015-16 season, and in the desolate goalie wasteland of Colorado no less, Berra performed much better with a .922 SV%, 2.41 GAA, and 2.84 GSAA. He also had 58.3% of his 12 starts finish above .885 SV%. This provides some glimmer of hope if the Ducks are in the unfortunate circumstance of having to call Berra up to man the crease. At 31 years old this season, Berra isn’t going to move the needle in terms of goalie progression, nor should he be expected to perform as an NHL level goaltender if he does somehow make the Ducks. However as a 3rd string tender and one that the Gulls will most likely be leaning on, he has the potential to be average if things break the right way. If Berra fails expect a goalie trade to shore up the Gulls and provide a more NHL ready 3rd stringer. Assuming of course that Kevin Boyle and/or Dustin Toksarki doesn't catch fire.
So to summarise....
Olle Eriksson Ek – The Future
I wasn’t going to go this deep, but Ducks fans should pay attention to this guy given the chance. He might be Bob Murray’s most important pick since the first guy on this list, and certainly a chance to be the future starter when Gibson leaves for his 10+ million dollar contract in a few years.
Ericksson Ek entered the draft as the second-ranked European Goaltender (behind a Finn naturally) on the back of a .924 save percentage in the Swedish Junior league. At 6’3 he has good size, but perhaps on the smaller side of the current-day prototypical goalie. There is still room for him to grow, as he was listed at 6’2 only weeks prior to the draft.
For now, it’s likely he stays in Sweden to continue developing, as he's already been released from training camp. Given he just cant stop collecting medals for the national team, that’s no poor option. I’d expect him in San Diego in two years time, and on the Ducks two seasons after that. He’ll be old as dirt at 22 by then, but nonetheless keep your eyes and ears open. There’s always a chance he’ll be blowing minds and Bob Murray won't be able to see him with the Gulls.
Can Big Daddy Gibson challenge for the Vezina this season?
This poll is closed
Not this season