Ducks’ Andersen Deserves Some Credit
Mired in one of their worst starts in recent memory, the Anaheim Ducks are looking for someone, anyone, to kick start their season.
In Anton Khudobin they thought they might have found that someone, as the 29-year old stopped 34-shots in a 4-1 win against Minnesota, only for the Ducks to slump to a 5-1 defeat in Nashville last night, with Khuodbin giving up five goals on 29 shots.
Khudobin’s brief status as the clubs saviour only served to highlight two issues the club has right now – they can’t score, and the idea goaltending was the issue in the first place.
It wasn’t. It isn’t. Khudobin had a bad night, it happens. But the Ducks weren’t desperate for a guy to ‘make a save’ in the way, say, Columbus are right now because they already had a guy doing what he is paid to do.
But then, praising Frederik Andersen doesn’t seem to be the ‘in’ thing in Anaheim.
In four starts this season, Andersen has given up six goals on 114 shots. Good for the sixth lowest goals against average in the league, and sixth highest save percentage in the league.
He is currently winless, but that is simply explained by the fact that during that same four game span, the Ducks scored exactly one goal! One!
The problem is not that Ducks’ Coach Bruce Boudreau turned to Khudobin in a bid to shake things up during this skid – a tactic employed by many Coaches down the years – it’s the never ending suggestion Andersen isn’t ‘the guy’ in Anaheim, either right now or in the future.
Again, in isolation the decision to start Khudobin against the Predators shouldn’t raise and eyebrows. The Kazakhstani puck stopper played well against Minnesota and the ‘win and your in’ approach, while often maligned by the goaltending community, has also been employed by numerous NHL coaches.
But it also extended this somewhat frustrating narrative that seems to surround Andersen.
Debuting in 2013/14, Andersen wasted little time in making then backup Viktor Fasth expendable and looked to be on course to take over as Anaheim’s #1 by the end of the regular season, as incumbent Jonas Hiller headed for unrestricted free agency.
But Andersen’s struggles in the playoffs, combined with the Duck’s decision to juggle Andersen, Hiller and top prospect John Gibson, seemed to plant seeds of doubt over the Dane’s ability to be an NHL goaltender.
But the Herning, Denmark secured 35 wins in 53 appearances last season – his first as starter and second in the NHL – and could at least have been described as ‘league average’; both figuratively and literally thanks to a .914 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average that sat right around the league averages of .915 and 2.45 respectively.
Some may sneer at the idea of Andersen being ‘league average’ is somehow praise worthy, but every seasons there are teams that would kill for some consistent, league average goaltending and to look as settled as Andersen did as a Cup contenders #1 goaltender in just his second season deserve’s credit.
It takes some netminders years to find that kind of consistency and comfort in a such a high pressure role on a successful team.
In Andersen, the Ducks know what they are getting. A 26-year old netminder who has grown in to the role of a dependable starting goaltender, and continues to improve.
Even the post season jitters of 18 months ago seemed to disappear last term, with Andersen posting similar numbers to Cup finalists Ben Bishop and Corey Crawford during a run that took Anaheim to the Western Conference Final.
But still, Andersen’s future in California is clouded.
The shadow of John Gibson may have something to do with it. The 22-year old signed a three-year contract extension this summer and is considered one of the brightest prospects in the game.
It seems to be something that is simply accepted now, that Gibson will be Anaheim’s #1 in the near future.
And that may make pending restricted free agent Andersen ‘expendable’ in some people’s eyes. Though one would have to severely question those people’s eyesight.
Re-signing Andersen is the correct course of action here.Embed from Getty Images
Khudobin is an unrestricted free agent next summer, presenting an easy out for the Ducks that also offers a clean pathway for Gibson to make a permanent move to the NHL – allowing Anaheim to avoid the same ridiculous situation we’ve seen in Calgary this year, where the Flames struggled to juggle two veterans and a promising youngster.
It also leaves Anaheim with the optimal pairing between the pipes. Khudobin is a solid backup, maybe even 1B goaltender. But he’s not better than Andersen, nor does he have Gibson’s potential.
Losing Khudobin would also clear $2.25m worth of salary – almost enough to accommodate Gibson’s $2.3m cap hit (which kicks in as of next season) or hand Andersen a well deserved raise on his current $1.3m salary (cap hit $1.15m).
It’s also worth noting Anaheim has the eight lowest cap hit in the NHL right now – and though General Manager Bob Murray also needs to re-sign pending RFAs Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm, there is room to invest in Andersen.
We’re not talking about a lengthy deal here. Unless a player (skater or goalie) is truly exceptional, long term deals only become a burden down the line. But a short term deal, say two or three years, with a cap hit of around $3m would not be outlandish.
It doesn’t hurt the Ducks cap situation – if anything it gives them better flexibility to move either Andersen or Gibson later on – and provides some stability for both Anaheim and Andersen as the clubs Cup window remains open. Such a deal would also allow Gibson to grow in to the #1 role, if that is the plan (which seems likely), rather than being forced in to it.
But while Gibson hones his game, with San Diego and eventually the Ducks, it is Andersen who holds the fort. And he does it well. It’s time people started giving him his dues.
The former Frolunda puck stopper may well be surpassed by Gibson in the future; but until then the Ducks are Cup contenders with Andersen between the pipes, not in spite of him.
Perhaps the Ducks could learn a thing or two from Chicago, who nurtured Corey Crawford in to one of the NHL’s most dependable puck stoppers.
Because in Andersen they too have a goaltender who could help the club achieve great things, if they instilled a little faith in him.