“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.
For the Anaheim Ducks we picked… goaltender Jonas Hiller.
To be sure, Hiller hasn’t suffered a fall from grace, but his job is on the line all the same. When he struggled early in the 2013 campaign, Viktor Fasth rose to the occasion and while Hiller eventually bounced back, in the interim Fasth went from being a relative unknown to a viable starter.
Fasth is kicking off a two-year contract that comes with an affordable $2.9 million annual cap hit. On top of that, the Ducks have a couple strong goaltending prospects in John Gibson and Igor Bobkov. All three of those netminders are still question marks, but if Fasth in particular doesn’t regress this season, then Hiller will be in a very difficult position going forward.
This is a contract year for Hiller and presumably the 31-year-old netminder will be seeking a lucrative long-term deal. That won’t happen in Anaheim unless he can assert that the Ducks need him despite their other options.
The best way for Hiller to accomplish that would be to step up in the playoffs. So far, he’s only participated in 20 postseason contests and has never led the team past the second round. That’s by no means solely or even primarily his fault, but by the same token, it will be much harder for the Ducks to rationalize moving past him if he pulls off some timely heroics.
They do have the pieces around him to make a respectable run this season, although they are by no means a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. They need players to find another level for that to happen and Hiller’s one of them.
Even if he isn’t able to pull that off, it’s still vital for him to compete for time with Fasth and find a way to be at the very least solid. The free agent market isn’t always kind to goaltenders and if Hiller has to enter it, he’ll want to do so as a clear-cut starter. This would be a horrible year for him to struggle as far as his long-term career goals are concerned.
For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.