The conclusion of the Western Conference Final left a bitter taste in the mouths of all those associated with the Anaheim Ducks organization.
Whether it be rumored tension between Bruce Boudreau and Bob Murray, or the ensuing “hot-take” storm that followed the loss, the collective atmosphere around the Ducks is experiencing some troubling pollution.
When everything is placed into its proper context though, it must be noted that Anaheim has one of the best young defensive cores in the league that should only progress. On top of that, they have legitimate superstars in the primes of their careers.
Clearly, things aren’t as bad as they might seem around Katella Avenue. On that note though, the Ducks still face one burning question going into the summer months and beyond, and it’s a question that’s unfortunately plagued them the last few years.
The Great Goaltending Debate
Frederik Andersen has proven beyond any doubt that he can at the very least keep a job in the National Hockey League. Although he was stellar against the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames, he badly folded when faced against stiffer competition in the form of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Andersen’s game, in a word, disappeared when the going got tough. His poor play alone wasn’t what destroyed the Ducks’ hopes, but it certainly didn’t help. Letting in 19 goals in the last four games is inexcusable by any measure.
Meanwhile, the soon-to-be 22-year old John Gibson sat patiently on the Anaheim bench, and though he never had to come in to relieve Andersen, it certainly felt as if he could, and perhaps should have. Given Boudreau’s checkered goaltending past though, it’s no surprise that he strayed away from any controversy in the crease.
A Fateful Season
The 2015-16 campaign will be pivotal in answering the Ducks’ crease conundrum. Both goaltenders will be restricted free agents by the end of the season, and any rational observer would have to think that Ducks’ management will only be able to keep one of the two around long term.
Andersen can bring it and hang with the very best on some nights, yet the question remains as to whether he can be that reliable goaltender the Ducks need to elevate themselves above the Blackhawks.
On the other hand, what can anyone really make of John Gibson? He dealt with injuries throughout the year, limiting him to only 11 games of action in the AHL and 23 games of NHL hockey. Given that he was solid, if unspectacular, in limited games with the big club, it’s tough to really get a read on where Gibson’s development is.
Back in 2010 the Montreal Canadiens were forced to decide between the more proven Jaroslav Halak or the upstart Carey Price. Ultimately Montreal dealt Halak off to St. Louis, and there isn’t a soul in 2015 that would argue they made the wrong decision.
Many criticized the move at the time though, as Halak was fresh off a memorable playoff run. While Andersen hasn’t shone like Halak did that year, he’s obviously the safer option in that the Ducks have at least some feel as to what he can offer.
Potential Trade Scenario
Much like Price at the time, Gibson has shown that he has NHL-ready talent, but not necessarily the overall maturity to excel quite yet. His track record in junior and in the minors suggests that he has the potential to be much more than what Andersen has shown to date. The idea of dishing off a potential All-Star prematurely will surely have Ducks’ management losing sleep over the summer.
Whichever goaltender excels this coming season will perhaps win themselves a healthy contract extension and the security of the number one job. Maybe one will stand out over the other in the first half of the season, leading to the lesser goaltender being dealt at the deadline for playoff ammunition.
There’s a team in Edmonton that’s looking for a number one goaltender, and the Ducks are the prime dance partners. A scenario where either Andersen or Gibson get flipped for one of the Oiler’s young guns is by no means out of the question. Everything is on the table for the Ducks, hinting that 2015-16 is already shaping up to be a wildly interesting season.