With the departure of Dan Ellis, the Anaheim Ducks have nothing substantial at the backup goaltender position behind Jonas Hiller. Hiller, having already played in 73 games last season, is slated to take on an even bigger role this season, and will be heavily relied on throughout the year.
However, Hiller is still somewhat of a wild card, since over the past couple seasons he's seen all-star and Hart Trophy-caliber success, while also suffering for an extended period of time from vertigo symptoms. These symptoms caused his playing ability to significantly suffer.
Now, with an entire season and almost two vertigo-free years behind him, could Hiller be set to return to his highest caliber of play and take the Ducks back to the playoffs?
Time will tell.
Since replacing Jean-Sebastien Giguere as the Ducks No. 1, Hiller has asserted himself as one of the more reliable and elite goaltenders in the NHL today. If the Ducks are to be successful, they'll need Hiller to live up to his potential, and be to them what Jonathan Quick was to the Los Angeles Kings last season.
Like the Kings, Anaheim has struggled in recent years for offense, despite the powerhouse first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Anaheim's problems can also be attributed to its defense, as they've spent so much time playing from behind, the Ducks' first line wasn't able to relax and take control of games.
Hiller will have a little extra help on the defensive side of the puck with the offseason acquisitions of Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. Though the pressure will still be on him to perform, and to give his team an opportunity to play with a lead more often.
If the Ducks' high-profile scorers have another slow season, Anaheim will be counting on Hiller to make them a defensive team. The Ducks built their Stanley Cup-championship season around the defense of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger and, since losing both players, haven't been able to replicate that success.
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The firing of Randy Carlyle and the hiring of Bruce Boudreau marked a critical point in the Ducks' transition, where they now have a coach who will focus them on speed and high-powered offense, rather than the slug it out dump and chase style perfected by Carlyle, though lost on Anaheim's new defensive core.
This year will be the first full year in which we could see a highly offensive minded Ducks team, and if we do, it'll be up to Hiller to shoulder a high percentage of the defensive load.
The fact is simple: Fast break teams play fast-paced hockey, and if Anaheim is going to speed up, they'll need their goaltender to keep up.