The Anaheim Ducks have retained elite goaltending prospect John Gibson on a three-year extension. What role will he play in their crowded crease this season?
The off-season, naturally, is a time for reflection. We try to project the standings. We assess which teams won and lost the summer based on their signings and trades or lack thereof. And, without fail, we speculate on goaltending battles.
If I use Twitter, blog comments and reader emails as the measuring stick, no crease has the world’s hockey fans more puzzled than that of the Anaheim Ducks. Has Frederik Andersen solidified himself as the No. 1? Isn’t John Gibson supposed to be the world’s top goaltending prospect? And what the heck is Anton Khudobin doing in Orange County?
Believe it or not, John Gibson’s new three-year, $6.9-million extension helps us finally understand how GM Bob Murray and coach Bruce Boudreau will sort out the Ducks’ net.
Gibson’s contract is a one-way deal, but he still has one season left on two-way pact. It’s entry-level and, based on his age and experience to date, he does not have to pass through waivers if he’s sent down to the AHL this season. Khudobin, meanwhile, is an unrestricted free agent after 2015-16. He’s on a one-way deal and will make $2.25 million, so he’s playing in the NHL this year. He’ll serve as a pure backup to Andersen. For all the flak Andersen seems to take, he did backstop the Ducks to Game 7 of the Western Conference final last season, marking their best result since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. Andersen isn’t a game stealer and is prone to the odd soft goal, but he’s big, calm and talented. He’s also tied for the fastest goalie in NHL history to win 50 games. Wins mean far less than individual goalie metrics like save percentage, but they still tell us that, hey, the Ducks win a ton with Andersen in the lineup. So he’ll get his shot to start.
Gibson remains an elite prospect. We’ll call him the West’s best blue-chipper at the position, with Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the charge out East once he’s back healthy. Gibson doesn’t have to be all-world just yet. He’s still only 22, which is like 14 in goalie years. Injuries limited him to just 34 appearances between the NHL and AHL last season. Gibson’s career high for one pro season is 48 combined appearances in 2013-14. He hasn’t gotten an extended shot at being a bellcow goaltender in the vein of Carey Price and Braden Holtby. The flexibility of Gibson’s contract lets the Ducks give him that shot for one more season in the minors or at least an extended part of one season in the minors. Murray still thinks the world of his young goaltender, as he told reporters yesterday. Murray pointed out that, if not for a broken thumb, Gibson might have seen some playoff starts with the Ducks last spring. Murray also made it pretty clear Gibson will start 2015-16 in the AHL and that Gibson understands the situation perfectly.
“He’s very clear,” Murray said. “His agent (Kurt Overhardt) and I talked a lot about this situation. (Overhardt) was very helpful because he knew it was the best situation for John moving forward. Early on this year, things could be rough, but he knows exactly. I had a long talk with him two nights ago. He knows what my game plan is. He knows what I think of him. He’s on board right now. He’s prepared for that.
“Injuries happen – and have happened in goal – every year for the past four or five years. We’ve always had injuries. That’s why I’m a little more comfortable with our goaltending right now. I won’t be searching for somebody in November, I don’t think.”
And so Gibson will carry the mail for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls for the time being. Most young goalies would rather play a little in the NHL than a lot in the AHL. Malcolm Subban told THN that recently, and Gibson is no exception. But, for now, Gibson is happy to be healthy, and he’ll be ready when he does get a chance.
“I’m just looking forward to playing,” he told reporters. “Obviously, I want to be here sooner rather than later, but you can’t control that. I’m just going to play my best. I’m sure with every decision they make, it’s for the betterment of the team. You have to respect that. I’m just worried about playing and playing wherever I’m at. I just have to do my job.
“You never know what could happen. Something could happen tomorrow where there might be two of us here, or maybe three. You never know. It’s better to be safe than sorry with all the injuries. Everybody goes through it. Hopefully last year was my year, and I got it out of the way.”
Finally, some clarity, even if it’s temporary. Andersen will begin 2015-16 without Gibson breathing down his neck. We’ll see how long that arrangement lasts. And, yes, fantasy poolies, adjust your goalie rankings accordingly.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin