Jonas Hiller

Associated Press

Jonas Hiller signs three-year deal with EHC Biel of Swiss League

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Jonas Hiller‘s NHL days are over for the foreseeable future. The veteran netminder has signed a three-year deal to join EHC Biel of the Swiss League, the team announced.

The move to Europe doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Earlier this month, word got out that the Flames weren’t interested in bringing Hiller back next season.

The 34-year-old was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. After he posted a 9-11-1 record with a 3.51 goals-against-average and a .879 save percentage in 2015-16, his NHL options would likely have been limited at best.

He enjoyed way more success last season, when he had much better numbers and led the Flames to the postseason.

Hiller will join former NHLers Maxime Macenauer, David Moss and Robbie Earl with EHC Biel.

Biel was the worst team in the Swiss-A League this season, according to Hockey DB.

As for the Flames, they’ll have to make some changes in goal if they hope to make the postseason again. Calgary’s four “main” goalies are all free agents going into the off-season.

Niklas Backstrom, who they acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline, is 38-years-old and likely has no future with the team. Karri Ramo suffered a torn ACL during the season, but he wasn’t overly impressive in 2015-16 either. Joni Ortio is the youngest of the bunch and he’s an RFA. There’s a good chance he’ll be the only one back next season.

There won’t be a ton of quality goalies available in free agency this summer, so the Flames may have to bring one in via trade. Veteran free agents like Cam Ward or James Reimer could make sense at the right price.

Here are five goalie dramas to watch in the playoffs

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A quick look at some of the most intriguing netminding scenarios for the Stanley Cup playoffs:

Fleury’s health, Murray’s health

Marc-Andre Fleury missed the end of Pittsburgh’s regular season with a concussion.

His backup, Matt Murray, was knocked out of the final game following a collision with Philly’s Brayden Schenn.

This, of course, is not how the Pens wanted to punctuate an otherwise terrific ending to the year. Third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff was forced to finish off the Flyers game — a 3-1 loss, snapping an eight-game winning streak — and while Fleury did return to practice on Monday, it’s unclear if he’ll be ready when the Pens open their series against the Rangers on Wednesday.

While his playoff performances have been erratic in recent years, Fleury is still incredibly battle tested — of all active NHL netminders, he sits second in wins (53) to Henrik Lundqvist.

As such, the Pens are definitely hoping he’s healthy, especially since Murray is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Allen vs. Elliott

In what’s become an annual rite of passage in St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock was forced to choose a Game 1 playoff starter — it’ll be Brian Elliott facing Chicago, getting the nod over the previously-injured-but-now-100-percent-healthy Jake Allen.

But, in what’s also become a rite of passage for the Blues, things could change.

In their previous four playoff appearances, the Blues have had four different starting goalies: Elliott, Allen, Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak. It’s been something of a revolving door, though Elliott has remained the constant.

Last year, Hitchcock started Allen over Elliott in St. Louis’ opening-round series against the Wild (even though, a month earlier, Hitch said Elliott would be the guy). The decision came under scrutiny after Allen looked shaky over the final two games of the series, and got hooked in the decisive Game 6.

The problem for St. Louis doesn’t lie with who’s named the starter, though. It’s what happens afterward. Given the all the mind changing, it’s tough for the No. 1 to not constantly be looking over his shoulder.

What will Boudreau do?

For Game 1 versus Nashville, John Gibson looks to be the Anaheim starter.

But, much like in St. Louis, things can change.

Back in March, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau might employ a playoff goalie rotation between Frederik Andersen and Gibson.

Andersen was the guy for Anaheim last spring, playing every minute of every game en route to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. Yes, his play in that Conference Final was spotty — he gave up 18 goals over the final four games versus Chicago, and finished the series with a .901 save percentage — but that experience could prove invaluable.

There’s little doubt Gibson is the club’s goalie of the future, but he’s still just 22 years old and doesn’t have a huge postseason resume. Boudreau went to him during the ’14 playoffs for a brief spell, four games all told, and Anaheim was bounced in the second round by L.A.

Crease conundrums are nothing new in Anaheim, of course.

During that ’14 run in which Gibson made his postseason debut, Boudreau started three different goalies — Andersen, Gibson and Jonas Hiller — which proved to be an awkward situation in the blue paint.

Crease conundrums are nothing new for Boudreau, either.

His penchant for flip-flopping predates his time with the Ducks. In Washington, he yanked Jose Theodore in favor of Semyon Varlamov during the 2009 playoffs; a year later, after vowing “there is no short leash” for Theodore, Boudreau yanked him in favor of Varlamov.

Again.

What will BB do this time around?

Crawford’s health

In Chicago, there’s some concern about the health of Corey Crawford. The two-time Stanley Cup champ returned from a three-week absence — believed to be a head injury — to play in Saturday’s season finale, a sloppy 5-4 OT loss to Columbus in which Crawford allowed five goals on 25 shots.

Which begged the question: Is Crawford ready for the playoffs?

Head coach Joel Quenneville says yes.

Despite that assertion, Crawford will be one to watch. Do remember that, last year, he was hooked and briefly replaced by Scott Darling in the opening round against Nashville.

Of course, Crawford then reclaimed the No. 1 gig in that same series, and went on to backstop the ‘Hawks to the title.

Howard vs. Mrazek

Last year, Petr Mrazek was named starter for Detroit’s opening-round playoff series against Tampa Bay.

This year?

Head coach Jeff Blashill wasn’t confirming anything on Monday, but all signs pointed to Jimmy Howard:

This isn’t a huge surprise, given Howard was the man for Detroit down the stretch, starting the final seven games.

But one has to think the door is open for Mrazek. Howard did close out the year with consecutive losses, and Mrazek’s big coming out party happened against the Bolts last year, when he finished the series with a .925 save percentage.

Bonus 6th drama: Dallas!

This one is still TBD, as Stars head coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t decided between Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi. From the Dallas Morning-News:

On if he’s decided yet on a starting goalie for Game 1

“I like the way both our goalies have played. Right now I don’t have a bad decision. There’s not a wrong decision, but these guys have both played well and they’ve both played well down the stretch. There’s probably a chance both guys will play.”

On if he’ll name a starting goalie prior to Game 1

“No.”

Neither goalie has been great this year, but Niemi could get the nod based solely on postseason experience. He has a Stanley Cup and over 60 games on his resume, while Lehtonen has never been out of the first round and has just eight playoff games to his credit.

 

Flames parting ways with Hiller

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No huge surprise here, but it is official — veteran goalie Jonas Hiller won’t be back with the Flames next season, per the Calgary Sun.

Hiller, 34, struggled mightily this season after a ’14-15 campaign in which he backstopped Calgary to the playoffs a year ago. He went 9-11-1 with a 3.51 GAA and .879 save percentage, getting sporadic playing time.

In the last of a two-year, $9 million deal, Hiller could be in tough finding NHL work next season. He was largely panned for his body of work this year and — following an ugly 8-3 loss to Anaheim, in which Hiller allowed three goals on five shots — head coach Bob Hartley offered a frank assessment.

“You give them a few freebies from the start, and you know it’s going to be a long game,” Hartley said, per Yahoo. “Our goalies had a tough night. Nothing to take away from the Ducks, but in order to beat them you need a few saves here and there.”

As for Calgary, moving on from Hiller figures to be part of a major overhaul in goal.

Karri Ramo, who suffered a torn ACL in February, said he’s spoken with management — “we’ll see which direction the organization is going to go,” he said — but, given he turns 30 in July and is coming off a major knee injury, he doesn’t look like a long-term option.

Niklas Backstrom, acquired in the David Jones trade, is gone, which leaves Joni Ortio to (presumably) battle with whomever the Flames acquire via trade, or free agency.

The club has been tied to San Jose’s James Reimer (pending UFA) and Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen (pending RFA). But it sounds as though Calgary’s options might expand beyond those two — in March, Flames GM Brad Treliving said the club will “cast a wide net” to find a goalie.

Ducks continue home dominance over the Flames

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Make that 23 straight regular season home wins for the Anaheim Ducks against the Calgary Flames.

That’s quite a long streak.

It wasn’t even close to ending Wednesday, as the Ducks started early with three goals on their first five shots, chasing Jonas Hiller from the Calgary net, and then crushed the Flames by a final score of 8-3.

At least, for the Flames, recent AHL call-up Hunter Shinkaruk (former Canuck first-round pick, too) scored his first NHL goal on a deflection on the power play in the second period. By that time, Anaheim was leading by five goals.

There were a few anxious moments for the Ducks as goaltender John Gibson briefly left Wednesday’s game in the second period after a collision with teammate Hampus Lindholm, but he did return for the start of the third period, completing the remainder of the game.

The Ducks take over first in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of the L.A. Kings. Both teams have six games remaining on their respective schedules.

 

Goalie nods: Stolarz debut on hold as Flyers give Mason seventh straight start

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Even with the arrival of Ray Emery, Anthony Stolarz is still Philly’s No. 2 netminder — GM Ron Hextall confirmed as much on Tuesday.

But for now, Stolarz will have to be content with just being the backup, because his time to play still hasn’t arrived.

Tonight, Steve Mason will make his seventh straight start when Philly hosts Washington at Wells Fargo. The decision isn’t a huge surprise — the Flyers are fighting for their playoff lives, not the greatest time to throw the 22-year-old Stolarz into the mix — but it will be taxing for Mason, who has played an awful lot of hockey this month.

Tonight’s start is Mason’s 12th in March, meaning he’s played in all but two of his club’s games. Thankfully for Philly, he’s shown little ill-affect from that heavy workload, going 7-2-2 with a 1.97 GAA and .929 save percentage — a performance that’s gone a long way in Philly vaulting into its current wild card position.

The only question now is when — or, if — Stolarz will make his NHL debut. Philly has just six games left after tonight’s game against Washington, and it’s conceivable Mason will play them all.

Not that head coach Dave Hakstol would tip his hand about future plans.

“We make our decisions on a day-to-day basis who will start as our goaltender for any given game,” Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “We’ve done that all year long and we’ll continue to do that.”

For the Caps, Braden Holtby will be in goal.

Elsewhere…

Andrew Hammond takes on Michael Hutchinson as the Sens visit Winnipeg.

Jonas Hiller gets back into the Flames net. John Gibson starts for Anaheim.