Over the past decade, there have been tough goaltending decisions in Anaheim, and though it may not be coming this season, the Ducks will have to make another big choice soon.
With John Gibson back from injury and continuing his incredible play in the AHL and starter Frederik Andersen setting an Anaheim record in December with 10 wins in a single month, the Ducks have two young goaltenders on their hands and will likely have to choose one over the other. There are worse problems to have, and the Ducks have a history of making the right choice.
The Ducks incredible goaltender turnover began several seasons ago when, in 2005-06, Ilya Bryzgalov came along to compete with longtime Ducks netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Though Giguere started most of the season, Bryzgalov got hot to end the year and took the net come playoffs.
In the first game, the Ducks lost a 2-1 overtime game to the Flames, and the top spot went temporarily back to Giguere. But after falling behind 3-0 with almost two full periods remaining in game five, Giguere was yanked, and Byzgalov went back in. Anaheim rode the Russian netminder, who posted three consecutive shutouts spanning from game seven of round one to game two of round two, to the Conference Final where their luck ran out against a hot Oilers team.
The following season things would shake out much the same, but with Giguere taking the starting role in the playoffs and never relented en route to a Stanley Cup victory. The following year, the Ducks mercifully waived Bryzgalov and the Coyotes picked him up. Thus began the Ducks string of young netminders beating out their top competition. Giguere may have won the first battle for the pipes, but then came a 25-year-old Jonas Hiller.
Hiller’s battle against Giguere wasn’t much of a fight. In 2007-08, after waiving Bryzgalov, Hiller took the backup role, started 18 games, and went 10-7-1. In 2008-09, Hiller split starts with Giguere, something Bryzgalov never did during his stay, and in 2009-10 Hiller became the every day starter while Giguere found himself packing his bags and heading to Toronto.
Hiller remained the Ducks number one for four seasons, even forcing out a young upstart Viktor Fasth, who started out so hot he earned himself a new contract within months of beginning his rookie season. Subsequently, however, Fasth would be traded when Andersen emerged. But Andersen ousted Hiller in the playoffs, and that was it for the Swiss netminder. Hiller packed his bags and signed a deal with the Calgary Flames this past off-season.
But in Andersen and Gibson, unlike any of the goaltending rivalries the Ducks have had in the past, Anaheim has two young goaltenders that are ready to make the next step. When they moved on from Giguere, Hiller was 25. Fasth nearly ousted Hiller, but the 31-year-old was sent to Edmonton when the 24-year-old Andersen came along. And in the off-season, the Ducks went with the tandem of Andersen and 21-year-old Gibson over the aging Hiller.
So which goaltender do the Ducks choose when it comes to the two young, talented netminders? Anaheim would be wise to let things play out a bit further.
While Gibson hasn’t seen the NHL workload, he’s been incredible in his few starts, turning in a 2-2 record this season with a .927 save percentage, 2.28 goals-against average, and one shutout. Andersen, on the other hand, is 20-5-5, boasts a .916 SP, 2.29 GAA, and has a shutout of his own. That’s on top of Andersen already having a 20-5-0 record last season with a .923 SP and 2.29 GAA.
Though the easy assumption is the Ducks should keep Andersen, Gibson’s AHL numbers have been outstanding and he’s heralded as one of the best goaltending prospects in the world. Giving up so early on Gibson – he’s only 21 – could turn into a terrible, terrible mistake. And the Ducks simply will not be able to keep both once the workload is split and each comes up for restricted free agency in 2016-17.
It’s going to take an incredible performance by either netminder to win the starting job, but whoever does should win the confidence of Ducks fans. After all, Anaheim has a history of choosing the right man between the pipes.