In a way, it seems fitting that the Calgary Flames signing Jonas Hiller was one of the most interesting – maybe even downright mysterious – moves of the 2014 offseason. After all, it’s been a really odd run for the Swiss-born netminder lately.
An answer to each others’ problems?
In the past three seasons, he suffered through a season with a record below .500 (2011-12), vertigo-like symptoms (2012-13) and the regular upheaval that is the Anaheim Ducks’ goalie situation (most of his stay in Anaheim battling the likes of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov and Frederik Andersen for playing time).
Meanwhile, the Flames’ netminding situation has been a mess. It’s easy to pin their troubles on Miikka Kiprusoff’s decline and departure, but Calgary’s save percentage has ranked in the NHL’s bottom 10 in in three of the last four seasons (while being in the top third in the NHL in 2011-12), so this is an issue that’s been lingering for some time.
As it turns out, both sides are looking for stability.
It’s unlikely that the Flames’ team-wide performance will remain the same next season, but Flames Nation plugged in some of Hiller’s numbers and saw that he could be a significant difference-maker … even if he’s not at his best. That said, even a nice goaltending boost might merely make them a failed bubble contender instead of a lottery team in the end.
The problem with improvement
Actually, that brings us to what might be the real question: just how good do the Flames want Hiller to be?
Ignoring his contract and looking at the goalie based on his career highs and lows alone, the 32-year-old might honestly be one of the biggest gambles in the league. He’s shown the talent to be elite (or near-elite), yet his production and health inspire the label “erratic” just as often.
Most importantly, the Flames don’t seem like a formidable team even if you assume that you’re getting strong goaltending. Instead, a scrappy bunch with Hiller might just ruin their chances to “tank” and add a key young player to compliment the likes of Sean Monahan, Sven Baertschi and Sam Bennett.
Executive Brian Burke seemingly detests exploiting CBA loopholes, and bringing in a talented (if occasionally crestfallen) goalie like Hiller implies a push toward competence. It’s anyone’s guess if that will work out, yet the odd thing is that the Flames might be better off if this experiment fails.