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Anaheim Ducks Face Tough Goalie Quandary

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | In an age where competition is starting to influence lucrative long-term goalie contracts, the Anaheim Ducks have a tough dilemma, as they'll need to decide if their starter is a keeper.

To make this determination, the Ducks will have to weigh the facts and either grant impeding unrestricted free agent Jonas Hiller a salary presumably higher than the $4.5 million he currently makes or choose a different direction.

While the Swiss-born 31-year-old goalie has certainly excelled in an Anaheim uniform over the past six seasons, there are both internal and external factors that could precipitate a reappraisal of the status quo.

The emergence of Swedish-born Viktor Fasth is certainly one of those internal factors. Fasth was tendered a two-year, $5.8 million contract extension last season after an impressive 8-0-0 start. He finished with better goaltending statistics than Hiller, although they shared nearly identical overall records.

The Ducks also have an impressive goaltending corps in the system starting with highly touted prospect John Gibson. The 20-year-old American earned Most Valuable Player honors in January when he led the United States to World Junior Championship Gold. Also at their disposal are prospects Frederik Andersen and Igor Bobkov - both capable of impressing if given the chance.

But external factors exist too. Next summer there might be some interesting names hitting the free agent pool if their current teams don't resign them.

Leading the pack is New York Rangers ace Henrik Lundqvist, who is arguably one of the top three goaltenders in the league. St. Louis also has a pair of goalies in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott who both may need to find new squads. In addition, Ryan Miller, Devan Dubnyk, and Tomas Vokoun could hit the market.

While none of those names seem likely at this time, they could give the Ducks options next summer if contract negotiations with Hiller go awry.

Assuming Hiller takes the starting role and posts better numbers than last year, he could be looking for a multi-year deal worth between 5 and 6 million per year and that may very well be fair market value his services.

After all, Hiller's got five years of starting experience. He's capable of playing more than 70 games and he's done well in the playoffs. All this while maintaining a solid save percentage despite Anaheim's switch in strategic hockey philosophy that now caters more to offense than defense.

Hiller also stands as the third most tenured Ducks goalie in team history after Anaheim crease legends Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Guy Hebert. The Ducks have perhaps been fortunate in this regard, carrying only three primary goalies in almost 20 years.

But this philosophy is also susceptible to scrutiny, as goaltenders are arguably the biggest surplus position in the game today. Tons of capable goaltenders never get the chance to play because of this perhaps archaic ideology that teams should find one person to stick with for multiple years.

That's why people like Fasth and former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas spend years bouncing around in the minors before getting their chance to shine.

And teams are clearly starting to notice.

Only Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford and Mike Smith received contract extensions worth in excess of $5.5 million per year and spanning at least six years in the offseason.

Meanwhile, 18 teams, including the Ducks seem to subscribe to a different philosophy, as they have goalies signed only for the next two years or less.

And with a dramatic increase in worldwide competition, this trend is likely to continue, meaning that Hiller could face an uphill battle if he seeks a lucrative long-term contract from Anaheim.

But then again, Ducks general manager Bob Murray may deem Hiller an elite and therefore do anything to retain his services. And if Murray has shown anything during his tenure, it's that he's not afraid to throw around money to retain top-grade talent.

What he needs to decide now is if Hiller can be bunched into that category.

Kenny Lindberg is an award-winning journalist with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Chico State. Lindberg proudly covers the Anaheim Ducks as a Yahoo! Contributor. In 2003, he served in Iraq as a U.S. Army combat engineer.

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