September 22, 2009
There's always going to be a sentimental connection between Anaheim Ducks fans and Jean-Sebastien Giguere(notes), who won a Conn Smythe in leading the team to the finals in 2003 and then helped win the Stanley Cup in 2007. Add in the fact that his struggles last season coincided with the death of this father, and he's practically a Masterton candidate this season should he experience a reversal of fortune.
Except ... there's this Jonas Hiller(notes) guy. Maybe you've heard of him. He's basically the reason the Ducks made the playoffs last season after taking Jiggy's job, and he posted a 2.23 GAA and a .943 (!) save percentage in 13 postseason starts. The regular-season tale of the tape between the two:
Giguere has two years left on his deal (and a $6 million cap hit), while Hiller's in his walk year. The assumption heading into camp was that it was Hiller's job to lose -- but that's not necessarily the case any more.
Giguere brought a renewed focus to the preseason, and from the start hasn't been focused on Hiller as much as himself. From the OC Register:
"Everybody knows what's going on," Giguere said. "It's going to be a battle, not necessarily between me and Jonas, but between me and the puck, and I'm going to try and win that battle. I know what I can achieve and I know what I can do."
Helene Elliott of the LA Times wrote today that the competition for the Ducks netminders is on:
Giguere has played one full game and half of another, for a total of 90 minutes. His goals-against average is 2.67 and his save percentage is .902. Hiller has played 89 minutes over two games and has compiled a 2.70 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. That's too close to call.
"We're going to give them equal opportunity to play," [Coach Randy] Carlyle said. "Our plan is to give Giguere another game and make sure Hiller gets another, and we have [Justin] Pogge here and we have a back-to-back situation. We'll try to spell that out in that matter and we'll see where the chips fall."
Giguere is intent on having them fall in his favor. "I'm happy where I'm at right now, at this point in September, but I think that's not where I want to be Oct. 3. I think there's another notch to go," he said.
In many ways, this is comparable to the Washington Capitals' goalie situation, as the incumbent watched the understudy take over and lead the team to postseason glory. The difference right now is that Jose Theodore's(notes) been named the starter over Semyon Varlamov(notes) in the preseason, while the Ducks' situation is a muddle.
There's nothing that says Carlyle needs to name a starter; Giguere and Hiller played to a 44/38 split last season, and that worked out pretty darn well in the end. But logic dictates in Anaheim and Washington that you give the veteran the glut of the work because if he falters, the other guy has already bailed out the team once before. You can always go back to Giguere or Theodore if the understudies are in a funk, but does it work the other way around?
We called this a controversy in the headline, which isn't exactly right: It's a blessing. About half of the NHL would love to have the Ducks' problems right now. Well, outside of Giggy's cap hit.