It’s rare when you see an NHL starting goalie traded mid-season. It usually requires a perfect storm of a team in dire need of goaltending help and another team with a glut of goaltending talent. Added to that you also need to find two teams willing to actually deal with each other while staying within the boundaries of the salary cap.
Enter the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks.
Why the Predators would be looking for a goaltender is no secret. When star netminder Pekka Rinne went down last month, GM David Poile decided to go with the very green duo of Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec to tend the pipes. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to hold down the fort.
In eight games since being named the de facto starter in Nashville, Hutton has gone 3-3-1 and only allowed less than three goals once. The low point came just last week against Winnipeg, when he was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on only eight shots. While Mazanec has fared a little better, it’s worth noting he has just a little over one hundred minutes of NHL experience.
So, with that experiment obviously not working, it’s clear the Poile has to do something to help out his team here. Particularly if Rinne is going to be out long-term and if they want to have any hope of a playoff spot this season.
That’s where the Ducks and Jonas Hiller come into things.
Hiller, a 31-year-old former all-star, has not been having the best of seasons. While he’s been good at times and racking up the wins thanks to a powerful Ducks squad in front of him, it’s clear that his play has dropped off and he appears to have been on the trading block for some time as a result.
What makes potentially moving him a little easier to stomach for the Pacific Division leading Ducks is the play of rookie Frederik Andersen. The 24-year-old has been nothing short of a revelation for the Ducks, allowing only 11 goals in seven games this season (with a nice, tidy, .943 save percentage). As of now, he seems to have usurped Hiller as the starter in Anaheim.
Complicating the situation is the upcoming return from injury of last year’s usurper, Viktor Fasth. For the majority of the 2013 season, Fasth and Hiller fought for ice time in Anaheim’s crease, with the former posting much better numbers. When Fasth returns from injury, could Hiller really be pushed down to third on the depth chart?
Or is it fourth? 20-year-old John “future of the franchise in goal” Gibson has been outstanding for Norfolk in the AHL this season, and it’s just a matter of time until he makes the jump to the big club. With Fasth, Andersen and Gibson, it’s clear that Hiller and his expiring contract don’t seem to have a place in Anaheim any more.
However, the question is, could this trade really be in the works? According to TSN’s Pierre Lebrun, there have been conversations between the two sides regarding Hiller, so a line of communication is open.
From a cap perspective, the Predators have about $3.5 million in space, and could probably accommodate Hiller’s $4.5 million salary rather easily, depending on the package going back the other way. The Ducks are right up against the cap and shedding Hiller’s salary would certainly give them some help. So there’s no complications there, assuming the Predators are able to free up that extra million dollars.
Adding to the appeal for the Predators is the fact that Hiller is going to be a UFA this summer. With Rinne locked in for the next six seasons, Hiller might be the perfect stop-gap solution to help them save their season. They might have some trepidation towards spending up to the salary cap, but another missed playoffs could really stall the momentum the franchise had been building in recent years.
From the Duck’s perspective, a move makes perfect sense. Hiller, while still a quality goaltender, isn’t part of their future plans. It was very likely that he was going to be traded at some point this season anyways, and they do still have the luxury of waiting until the trade deadline and really driving up the asking price. However, with the Preds in a desperate situation and falling fast, they might just take advantage of the opportunity while they can.
Trades are often more complex than armchair GMs think, with many moving parts and people involved. But from the outside looking in, this one seems to tick all the boxes of a potential deal that would benefit both sides.
Whether it actually comes to fruition or not, we’ll all just have to wait and see.
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