Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Too Many Cooks in the Crease

Jonas Hiller's performance Sunday night against the Sharks and Jiggy's continued struggles have created an interesting situation. Jiggy's GAA has been over 3.00 for a few weeks now, his positioning has been off and his former brilliance has only flashed through occasionally. It's true that he's been having a lot of off-ice trouble, but he hasn't rebounded the way we would have hoped. You've said it yourself, Hiller is one of, if not the, most athletic goalies in the league right now. Unfortunately, Jiggy is 31 and Hiller is 27. If we don't make a move and use Hiller's best years now while Giguere is struggling, are we wasting a great goaltending talent? Can the Ducks afford to play out the rest of Jiggy's contract before letting Hiller take the reins?

Since I saw the game against the Kings in London, I've been adamant in declaring Jonas Hiller the most athletic goaltender in the NHL. To me, Jonas is first, and Luongo is tied for second with Hiller's glove hand, okay? This kid's a starter who knows how to win games. He was great BEFORE Allaire got a hold of him, and that's new for the Ducks. It would be a SIN, a Cardinal Hockey SIN, for Hiller to be a backup in the 10-11 season, no matter what he's paid!

I think the most interesting thing here is that Hiller signed a two-year extension at the beginning of this season. That means he becomes a free agent before the last year of Jiggy's contract-- Jiggy, who has a no-trade clause. HIller has set himself up to either steal this job or come close enough to stealing it that he can get himself a fat UFA paycheck while the Ducks' hands are tied to Giguere. Now, I'm not suggesting that this was Hiller's or even his agent's plan, but this is what the Ducks have set themselves up to face at the end of next season by signing this kid to a two-year extension. They either ask Jiggy to waive his no-trade clause next season, or they ask Hiller to sign-and-wait and play behind Jiggy for another year, which no truly talented goaltender should ever do.

The Ducks don't really have the option to change horses before Jiggy's contract runs out, unless Carlyle commits to flipping the depth chart for good. As it stands, only Jiggy can give Hiller the job. However, if Jiggy doesn't waive his no-trade clause, Hiller WON'T go the way of Bryzgalov. Murray will move him next year; Bob showed at the trade deadline that he values his assets above all else.

As far as Jiggy's slump goes, I think Giguere's performance has always been inextricably tied to his confidence. That's what got us to the Finals in 2003, and that's what put Bryzgalov in the net in 2006. You have to take the good with the bad, AND you have to assume that your father dying after a year of your son's serious health problems creates a lot of bad. I've always said, though it's EXTREMELY insensitive to the tragedy that befell number 23, that at least Jiggy didn't take up baseball. He still wants to play, and Allaire is teaching him to rely on his fundamentals when his focus is off.

I think it's a cold day in hell before Jiggy surrenders this job willingly. He waited too long in the AHL, after being drafted in the first round, to have any appreciable sympathy for HIller being 'too good to be held back.' Jiggy might see evidence of it on the ice, Carlyle might offer him a front row seat for it next season, but I don't think that will change his mind. Ultimately, I see the Ducks moving Hiller next year, and that's the only thing they can really do if Jiggy won't waive his no-trade clause.

I've been worried about this for a little while, and the Ducks might regret giving Giguere that no-trade clause. Hiller is athletic, and he makes some of the best stops. Let's face it, outside of the strong positioning game Jiggy plays, there's not a whole lot to him. He's still a great competitor and if he decides to show up, and we decide to get in, I wouldn't want to face us in any round of the playoffs. But Hiller is younger and has a lot more potential. I'm very sentimental when it comes to Jiggy. I'll never forget the way he and Paul carried us in 2003, but he just hasn't looked like himself all year. I think based on that alone, you've got to give Jiggy one more shot to prove that he can be who he is. He's only 31. Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek have shown that a net minder who takes care of himself can go a long way, which means Jiggy could be in a Ducks sweater for another 6 years if he makes it back next year, and shows that all the off-ice drama is out of his system.

I think you've got to move Hiller. Not only for the same reason we moved Bryz, that is he deserves to be a starter and carry his own team to a cup, but because that trade will get us a top 6 forward or a top 4 D and a high draft pick. We picked up San Jose's top goalie prospect for a reason. Let's be honest, when Washington fails again this year, or Detroit realizes that they need someone between the pipes that isn't 80, they'll be willing to part with plenty to make that run to the cup. It makes me sad because I've developed a soft spot for Hiller too, but I think that of all the great back ups Allaire has produced, he's the most likely to have success in another place because he won't be just a position goalie. Of course Bryz would be doing better if Phoenix had anything that even resembled a defense. I just don't see this ending really well for anybody. When HIller gets a starting job, his team will be really good for a solid 4-5 seasons.

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