Jonas Hiller

Jonas Hiller’s long road from cloudy unknown to world-class netminder

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The 2010-11 season was shaping up to be a dream season for Jonas Hiller. He was in the midst of a career year with a .926 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average going into the all-star break. It would be his first career all-star appearance—the only goaltender in the Western Conference to earn the honor in 2011. The sky was the limit.

Then it all faded to black. Actually, that’s not true. It was then that the room started spinning out of control.

It was during that fateful weekend in January where Hiller’s dream season turned into a mystifying nightmare. At some point, something had happened to the Swiss netminder that doctors, coaches, and even Hiller couldn’t explain. The official word from the Ducks was “vertigo-like symptoms,” which basically means the goaltender’s world was spinning and no one knew why.

Six months later he said he was better. Then the Ducks said he was clear to play. With the great news of the offseason and Hiller stepping up in training camp, some of the details of Hiller’s bout with vertigo are starting to come to light. It’s long been thought that something happened during the All-Star weekend to Hiller, but it was mostly hearsay. In fact, he played in two more games after the All-Star break before the Ducks put him on injured reserve. Still, there’s no doubt that the man who returned from Raleigh wasn’t the same, all-world goaltender who was the only Western Conference goaltender that earned a trip to the all-star game.

Ducks legend Teemu Selanne shared with Pro Hockey Talk that there was something wrong with Hiller from the moment he returned. Something very wrong.

“I saw it right away,” Selanne admitted. “I think I was one of the first guys that saw him after the all-star break—the first practice, the first one he was so lazy out there. He was sitting on his stall [for an] hour, just looking in one spot. I said, ‘God, there’s something wrong with this guy.’ Then he tried to play, he couldn’t focus. It was obviously tough because up to that point, I think he was the best goalie in the league. That’s what it takes to win in this league these days. When the goalie is struggling, that’s a bad sign.”

The most frustrating part for Hiller and the Ducks was the unknown. After appearing in two games after the symptoms appeared – he was pulled after giving three goals in 11 minutes in the first game – the Ducks shut him down while they tried to figure out what was wrong with their prized netminder. At the end of March, the organization gave him another shot to get back to the ice to see where he stood. The news wasn’t good.

After giving up three goals on nine shots in an important game in Nashville, Hiller was returned to the bench while Ray Emery and Dan Ellis held down the goaltending duties. Hiller battled throughout the stretch run (and eventually the playoffs) to return to the crease, but it wasn’t to be. Bobby Ryan got an up-close and personal look at the Swiss netminder:

“You could see it in his eyes. He was battling a little bit. I think I noticed it the most in the playoffs, having some suspension time and getting to skate with him a little more then and work with him one on one.”

He was eventually shut down for the rest of the season.

That brings us back to today. Watching him stone teammates in practice, you’d never know that he was the guy who missed the last two months of last season. In his first game back, Hiller stopped 21 of 22 shots against the Vancouver Canucks and earned the #1 star of the game. When Selanne talks about Hiller’s performance in Vancouver, his tone noticeably changes for the better. Then again, he also shares that he wasn’t so sure how his goaltender would react to a live-game situation:

“He was outstanding in that game. You know, before that, you never know how the guy is going to be before he starts playing games. Obviously, it’s a totally different situation when you have the pressure of the games bring on you. It was great relief for everybody to see him doing well—he played so well.

“It’s funny,” Selanne continued. “A couple days in practice when the team went to LA, we were doing the shootouts and shooting the pucks and he was almost like a wall. We thought he was better than ever! So that’s great. We all know how important goaltending is these days. When the goalie gives you a chance to win every night, that’s huge.”

Around the league, organizations are looking to find new players in training camp to add to their respective teams to improve their team. But in Anaheim, the best “new” player may end up being that familiar face who was battling the unknown for the last six months of his life. Not many teams can claim they added a world-class goaltender to a team that already made a playoff run at the end of last season.

Look out Western Conference: the Hiller of old looks like he’s back.

Sakic, Selanne, Koivu, Krupp named to IIHF Hall of Fame

24 Feb 2002:  Joe Sakic #91 of Canada celebrates his assist on teammate Jarome Iginla's goal on goaltendr Mike Richter #35 of the USA during the first period of the men's ice hockey gold medal game during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the E Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit:  Al Bello/Getty Images
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This year’s International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame class is star-studded — to say the least.

Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Uwe Krupp headline the list of six inductees, which also includes former U.S. women’s team star Angela Ruggiero and Austrian hockey exec Dieter Kalt.

Sakic, Selanne and Koivu were locks for induction — Sakic is one of a handful of players in the Triple Gold Club (Olympics, World Championship, Stanley Cup) while Selanne and Koivu are arguably the two greatest Finnish players of all time.

Krupp, described by the IIHF as “the finest hockey player Germany has ever produced,” was the first German-born player in NHL history to both win the Stanley Cup, and score a Cup-winning goal. He also coached the national team from 2006 to 2011, helping it qualify for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Ruggiero is regarded as one of the best female players of all time. She won medals at four different Olympic games and helped the U.S. win four World Championships. In 2015, she was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Smith tears into Coyotes after ‘blah’ performance in Edmonton

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 21:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes sprays water in his face during a break from the second period of the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Gila River Arena on December 21, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Oilers defeated the Coyotes 3-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Last night in Edmonton, the Arizona Coyotes did what they normally do.

They lost.

But unlike previous losses this season, this one felt different. And afterwards, their veteran goalie really let them have it.

“You could feel it on the ice,” Mike Smith said after the 3-1 defeat, per Reuters. “We were just playing, and it was blah. It was blah. And you can’t expect to play like that and compete against a really good hockey team. That’s what we did tonight. We have to learn from it. Sooner or later, this organization’s got to move forward and not continue to have games like this.”

At 13-24-6, the Coyotes are already out of the playoff race. It’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 26-7-6 to qualify for the postseason, and that just isn’t going to happen.

Smith wasn’t alone in lambasting his team last night. The head coach, Dave Tippett, said it was “as poor as we’ve played” in the last month.

Suffice to say, it has been a disappointing season for the Coyotes. Though outside expectations were not particularly high for this group, they were much higher internally.

“Our team is looking to try and make the playoffs this year,” forward Max Domi said back in October. “We’re looking forward to the challenge and it’s going to be a lot of fun. The new faces are going to help us out a lot and some guys coming back are going to do the same things they did last year and more.”

Alas, the “new faces” have not been able to make the Coyotes competitive. Alex Goligoski was the big offseason addition. But the 31-year-old defenseman got off to a frustrating start with his new team, and though things have improved slightly since, the jury’s still out on the decision to give him a five-year contract worth $27.375 million.

In fact, Tippett singled out Goligoski and Michael Stone for this poorly timed line change that led to the Oilers’ first goal:

With pending unrestricted free agents in Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Ryan White, and Stone, the Coyotes should be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches.

That being said, this is not an organization that needs more prospects, more draft picks. This is an organization that needs to start turning the corner.

“It’s a privilege to play in this league and put the Coyotes sweater on,” said an exasperated Smith. “I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I can talk for myself, and know that every game I go into I want to give myself the best chance to play at my best. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but we’ve got too many guys who aren’t doing enough to push this thing along.”

Related: Keller, Strome to meet in gold-medal game at World Juniors 

B’s cancel practice after ‘unacceptable’ loss to Isles

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 02: Head coach Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins gives instructions to Brandon Carlo #25 during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 2, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s fair to say not a single Bruin involved in yesterday’s 4-0 home loss to the Isles was happy with the performance.

Patrice Bergeron called it “unacceptable,” head coach Claude Julien said the B’s were “totally out of whack,” and David Backes said the game was “as frustrating as it gets.”

Sounds like the team in need of a break.

So on Tuesday, it took one:

These are trying times for the B’s. The club’s struggled to find any sort of consistency since the calendar turned to 2017:

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Consistency, or a lack thereof, seems to be the biggest issue. Wins are almost always followed up with losses and, just one game after the victory over Philly — a game in which the B’s said their offense was finally “starting to connect” — they failed to put a single puck past Thomas Greiss.

Despite all this, Boston still sits in reasonably good shape standings-wise. The Bruins are second in the Atlantic Division, on 51 points, but are only three clear of three teams in their rear view: Toronto, Ottawa and Florida, http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/bruins/bruins_insider/2017/01/bruins_fall_flat_in_matinee_loss_to_islanders

Landeskog saying all the right things as trade speculation heats up

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 17:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche looks on during a break in the action against the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center on February 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Landeskog knows his name is out there in trade rumors. But until he’s dealt — if he’s dealt — all he can do is keep doing his thing as captain of the Colorado Avalanche.

And for the record, he doesn’t want to be traded.

“Whether my name is floating around or not, I’m still approaching the game the same way,” Landeskog said Monday, per the Denver Post. “And that is to spread energy, be a good teammate, work hard and try to get better every day. Me being in trade rumors, that’s nothing I can control.”

It’s been reported that the Avs are asking a big price for the 24-year-old winger, a former second overall draft pick. It remains to be seen if they’ll be willing to lower it. Not too long ago, Landeskog was an untouchable in Colorado. In 2012, he was made captain at 19 years old, just after he’d been named the NHL’s rookie of the year.

But the Avs have fallen off a cliff since Landeskog put up a career-high 65 points in 2013-14, the same season Colorado shocked the hockey world and won the Central Division. So far this season, he has just 14 points (8G, 6A) in 31 games, and the Avs are the NHL’s worst team.

Landeskog is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of almost $5.6 million. The assumption is that the Avs will use Landeskog or Matt Duchene, or even both of them, to fix a defense that badly needs fixing, then rebuild around forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Tyson Jost.

That will be easier said than done, but the Avs (13-27-1) have to do something, because whatever they’re doing now isn’t working.

Related: Fixing the Avs through trades will prove tough