Goaltending is an extremely influential variable in team success. Just not for all teams.
The National Hockey League is littered with examples of this. The Montreal Canadiens were a playoff team with Carey Price. Without him, they are not.
The Dallas Stars were a mediocre team with Kari Lehtonen getting the lion’s share of starts. Almost by sheer virtue of him playing less, they are a vastly improved team in the standings.
Yet both of those examples also carry some flaws.
A dominant goaltender is absolutely necessary to cover up the Canadiens’ ineffective breakout scheme. Even an average to slightly above-average goaltender was needed to cover up the Stars’ back and forth style.
Look at the truly dominant teams though, and where their own goaltenders fit into their blueprint to success.
The Chicago Blackhawks are not winning the Stanley Cup every other year because of dominant goaltending. Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford were both simply good enough to not screw it up.
Same goes for the Los Angeles Kings. Although Jonathan Quick was a brick wall in their 2012 Cup run, they could have still won with lesser goaltending thanks to their vaporizing defensive game. Quick has mostly been an average regular season goaltender throughout his career, and yet the Kings have still managed to rack up the wins.
Great teams don’t need the level of goaltending that flawed teams do. The Anaheim Ducks are playing like a great team at the moment, and it’s time they realize that they don’t need two starting goaltenders on their roster.
Frederik Andersen will be a 26-year old restricted free agent this summer. Meanwhile, the 22-year old John Gibson is signed at an extremely team-friendly $2.3 million cap hit through 2019. Gibson is objectively just as good as Andersen at a much younger age, and will be around for the foreseeable future.
As Gibson gradually approaches his peak potential in the next three years, his contract will only appreciate in value.
Andersen will probably be seeking much more than $2.3 million a year, and he’s earned it. At 26 though, that contract would only depreciate in value as he nears 30.
Essentially, there’s absolutely no reason for Anaheim to hang on to Andersen past this season, or even until the end of the current campaign.
The Ducks’ Fear Of Risk
Sure, there’s risk in riding a 22-year old netminder into the playoffs with championship expectations. But if the 22-year old is already just as good as the 26-year old, is it really even a risk?
The risk of Gibson going down with injury and having to rely on Anton Khudobin is a more realistic fear. Newsflash: that’s how it is for the 29 other teams who have a clear cut number one and number two goaltender. The Ducks have been the exception to that reality with their two-headed monster in goal.
Anaheim has become so good defensively that they’re past the point of needing a goaltender winning games for them. Now, Gibson has proven that he can do so on occasion, but like Crawford and Quick in the past, he simply has to be good enough to not screw it up. Sounds easy enough, right?
Stanley Cup windows open and close in a flash. To not make good on them is ultimately the greatest risk.
The Ducks window is wide open this year. The sole reason for their competitive existence is to win Stanley Cups. As absolutist as that may sound, it’s the truth. For a budget team like Anaheim, all the additional home playoff games that a Cup run can bring are a huge boost to the bottom line.
With that in mind, they need to do everything in their power to fulfill on that promise. It’s time to take a calculated risk, and that means trading Andersen to bolster their depth up front.
There’d be nothing more torturous for this franchise than to get bounced in the playoffs because of over-reliance on the top lines, while Andersen would simply look on from the bench, having absolutely zero effect on the outcome of the game.
Featured Images provided by Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers