For a significant portion of this season, John Gibson‘s been able to carry the Anaheim Ducks. Eventually that burden overwhelmed him, and with the team crumbling, he’s been placed on IR because of a combination of head/back/neck issues.
“He got whacked a whole bunch on one play,” Ducks GM/interim head coach Bob Murray said, according to TSN’s Jeff Paterson. “He’s just not right anywhere up there.”
This is obviously mostly bad news. You never want to see a player deal with anything neck-or-head related, as those issues can linger for a long time, sometimes for an entire career, whether that stems from aggravating ailments or never fully healing at all.
Yet, it’s tough to blame a segment of the Ducks fandom if they feel a little relief.
Sometimes NHL goalies feel a bit like NFL running backs, at least during the days when NFL running backs were workhorses (as opposed to the seemingly replaceable pieces they are now). From Shaun Alexander to other heavily used RBs, the worry was that you’d hit a certain threshold for carries, and then a running back would never be the same. Such thought processes also apply to MLB pitchers, and really any sporting position where wear and tear can really bring quality of play down.
The NHL tends to lag behind other leagues when it comes to embracing innovations in fields like “sports science,” so discussions of fatigue for goalies are really only cropping up now, and Gibson could be one of the make-or-break cases.
In the instance of 2018-19, the Ducks have often been breaking Gibson.
No goalie has faced more shots (1,434) or made more saves (1,311) than Gibson this season, and it’s not just about sheer physical fatigue. By just about every measure, the Ducks leave Gibson out to dry, such as allowing almost seven more shots per game than they generate. Anaheim’s asking Gibson to bail them out on an almost by-game basis, and when you’re not getting support, frustration can really build up. Especially when you’re losing as often as the Ducks have been lately.
When discussing fatigue last season, both Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy pointed to the mental side as much as the physical. That might sound corny, but it makes sense that the psychological stress matters too. Goalies need to do the more meat-and-potatoes work of studying video for tendencies in opponents. They need to get in whatever headspace they need to prepare for games. And, like an NFL defensive back, they have to find ways to shake off setbacks, whether the goals allowed were truly their fault or not.
If the Ducks were looking better, maybe Gibson would force himself to fight through the pain. In that situation, maybe there’d be spoken or unspoken pressure for him to do so.
With that in mind, this trip to the IR could be a blessing in disguise, or at least provide a silver lining. Making Gibson absorb more of this mess – mentally and physically – doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
And, hey, it gives everyone more time to come up with funny ways to refer to Bob Murray’s many roles.
(And, yes, it helps the Ducks’ tanking goals, if you’re looking at things that way.)