The Toronto Maple Leafs' goaltending situation has been in flux for quite some time, and now, with the team off to an impressive start, it's time to take drastic steps toward improvement.
Though Canucks goalie and three-time Vezina trophy winner Roberto Luongo has frequently been seen as the hottest target, Kevin McGran of The Toronto Star recently suggested an intriguing alternative option—the Ducks' Jonas Hiller:
It’s also believed [the] Anaheim [Ducks] would be willing to move Jonas Hiller, who has lost his No. 1 job to rookie Viktor Fasth.
[Leafs coach Randy] Carlyle has a relationship with Hiller and the Leafs have used the Ducks like a pipeline in recent years.
Hiller went down with a minor lower-body injury against the Dallas Stars Friday but not before conceding two first-period goals. He was replaced by 30-year-old wunder-rookie Viktor Fasth, who has since, as before, continued to impress in Hiller's place.
The former Swedish league net-minder is now 4-0 in four starts this season (6-0 overall), letting up just one goal per game. Though Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau planned to lean extensively on Hiller this season, his backup's emergence has suddenly made the veteran incumbent expendable.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Maple Leafs are off the a hot start for the second-consecutive season. They're second in the Northeast division with 16 points, and tied with Pittsburgh for third-best in the Eastern conference.
All this in spite of not having a true, bona fide, No. 1 goaltender. James Reimer has looked good when healthy, and Ben Scrivens has looked serviceable in relief, but it still remains an area of concern moving forward.
Especially on the heels of Reimer's injury against the Philadelphia Flyers. Though the lower-body injury (like Hiller's) appears to be innocuous, you cannot blame the Maple Leafs for feeling an air of deja vu. They believed the same thing about Reimer's early-season injury in 2011-12, but he was never the same afterwards—a fact that contributed to the team's late-season collapse.
With all of that context, Hiller becomes a more and more sensible option to take over between the pipes in Toronto. The connection with coach Carlyle, who coached Hiller in Anaheim for five seasons, is obvious, but the marriage makes sense for even more reasons than that.
The Maple Leafs cannot afford to miss the postseason again—they just cannot. The once-proud franchise hasn't qualified for the past seven seasons, their last appearance coming in 2003-04. Two lockouts separate them from their last taste of playoff hockey.
This team is in here-and-now building mode like few other teams in hockey. Their rabid fanbase has been put on ice for quite some time and are looking for a reason to rise from the ashes.
Hiller would provide them with a veteran rock between the pipes. He's struggled a tad this year, sure, but outliers are to be expected in a campaign that was put together so hastily.
As the sample size grows larger, Hiller will progress back to his career mean. That's a mean which, prior to this year, includes a career .918 save percentage and no season even remotely close to 3.00 GAA.
More importantly than those regular season numbers, though, is Hiller's one-year of playoff experience—something no other Maple Leafs goalie can claim to have. In 13 playoff games in 2009, Hiller had a .943 save percentage and 2.23 GAA.
The team eventually lost a seven-game series to the Detroit Red Wings, but Hiller was far from at fault.
Just that presence, that expectation to win and history of doing so, would go a long way in the Maple Leafs' long-suffering locker room.
But in addition to what Hiller could do on the ice, it would be a season-altering move for not just Toronto but the entire league.