ANAHEIM — Stop us if you’ve heard this one before … Bruce Boudreau has a goaltending problem.
The regular season was nothing short of dramatic for the Anaheim Ducks, and the playoffs appear to be no different.
After Sunday night’s loss to the Nashville Predators that put the Ducks in an 0-2 hole, Boudreau was asked to assess John Gibson’s play. He responded with, “He was okay. I don’t know if I could fault him on any of the goals. I’d have to talk to the goalie coach [Dwayne Roloson] and find out.”
On Monday morning, prior to the team’s flight to Nashville, Boudreau acknowledged he talked to the goalie coach. When pressed for more details, the coach responded with, “I don’t think I want to talk about it.”
Here we go again, right?
Instead of only showing why he started the wrong guy, we have to factor in one person who has been along with Boudreau through the goaltending controversies and hasn’t taken much heat – Ducks GM Bob Murray.
Boudreau and Murray have a complicated relationship.
One that is best illustrated by this: Boudreau kept his job after Anaheim lost in the Western Conference Final. Murray axed the only remaining assistant coach Boudreau had brought on, and replaced him with former Jack Adams winner, Paul MacLean. That hire signaled Boudreau was ‘on notice.’
With personnel decisions, the head coach has said repeatedly he tries to make things work with the players that Murray gives him, including goaltenders.
Murray’s plan out of training camp was to keep Gibson in the AHL the entire year in order for the 22-year-old net minder to get more experience. Andersen was to be the No. 1. The Ducks acquired Anton Khudobin at the draft to act as the backup.
The decision to make Frederik Andersen the preeminent starter was of no surprise. He was coming off a playoff performance that saw him go 11-5-3 as the team fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. Gibson did not see one second of ice time despite having played in four somewhat disastrous playoff games the year prior.
On November 24, Gibson was recalled for a game against Calgary after Andersen came down with a nasty case of the flu. Khudobin lasted 10:39 before he was yanked in favor of Gibson, who won the game.
Gibson went on to start the next five games while Andersen was on the mend. When Andersen returned, the new starter had a 4-2-1 record, so Murray put Khudobin on waivers.
The two evolved into more of a tandem in the Festivus miracle that was the post-Christmas break tear.
|October 10 – December 22 (Ducks record: 12-15-6)|
|December 27 – April 10 (Ducks record: 34-10-5)|
While this was great for the team, Murray faced a complicated situation come trade-deadline. One that the GM put himself in over this past summer.
Remember the now infamous quote by Murray at the draft, “John Gibson is not getting traded … put that (bleeping) out there”?
Murray selected his guy with not only words but dollars.
Prior to the start of training camp, the GM renewed his support of Gibson by giving him a three year contract extension worth $6.9-million over three years. Gibson is currently in the final year of his entry level contract.
This spurred trade speculation that Andersen was the odd goaltender out, and would probably be moved by the deadline as he’s in the final year of an RFA deal. We reporter earlier in the season Andersen’s camp hadn’t returned a phone call from the Ducks to begin negotiations. Hell hath no fury like a goaltender scorned.
Where have we seen this before…
Oh yes, the 2013-14 season. Where we learned it’s great to have a backup option, but it comes at great cost to the present.
Then-Ducks No. 1 netminder Jonas Hiller was on the final year of his four year contract when GM Bob Murray signed his backup, Andersen, to a two-year contract extension FIVE DAYS after his NHL debut; Andersen was filling in for backup Viktor Fasth at the time.
Hiller and Andersen made for an excellent tandem before it all went downhill in the playoffs.
Andersen started the entire first round series against Dallas. In Game 6, he was replaced by Hiller midway through after allowing four goals. Hiller stopped all 12 shots as Anaheim came back to win.
Hiller started against the Los Angeles Kings dropping the first two games. He was replaced by Andersen in the Game 3; however, Hiller had to come in after Andersen was injured in the final 10 minutes. Once again, with Hiller in net, the Ducks come back to win.
Andersen’s playoffs were done at that point. Instead of going back to Hiller for Game 4, they went with Gibson. It looked great for two games and then really crappy for the next three. Hiller, apathetic in Game 7, spelled Gibson as Anaheim completed the choke.
Point being: Gibson doesn’t get the green light without the general manager’s approval – both then and now.
At any point, Murray can come in and save Bruce from himself. By hiring MacLean, Murray puts someone in the locker room who will check Boudreau on his decisions.
SO WHY ON GORD’S GREEN EARTH DID GIBSON GET THE START(S)?!
The reason, according to Boudreau, comes down to ‘Gibson played more than Andersen’ in the stretch run. (Classic Boudreau, amirite?!)
Technically, he’s right… if he’s not looking at, you know, results.
During a game against Calgary on March 30, Andersen came in relief of a banged up Gibson. Andersen played about 11 minutes before suffering a concussion that caused him to miss the next four games.
In those four games, Gibson was 1-2-1 (and 4-5-1 in his last 10). When Andersen returned for the regular season finale against the Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals, he pitched a shutout, and was 7-1-1 in his last 10 appearances.
This leads us back to Murray.
To assume he’s hands off when Boudreau is making lineup decisions is foolhardy. He revealed as much in a pre-playoff conference call with reporters when he said it was his decision to send Ryan Kesler and Gibson back to Anaheim ahead of the final game against Washington that could clinch the Pacific Division.
Murray picked his horse in this race in the offseason. Now Gibson is essentially being force fed playoff experience because he sure as heck won’t have Andersen waiting in the wings next year.
If Andersen wasn’t mad back when Gibson supplanted him – and you really can’t tell outwardly, he’s monotone – he’s definitely going to be now. He’s going to want as much, if not more, cash than Gibson received. He won’t want to be a backup either or the part of some very expensive goaltending tandem (a la Dallas).
Other general managers know the bind Murray is now in. No one is going to offersheet Andersen when they know they can trade for his rights, and give up significantly less in return.
Murray made his own bed and now he has to lay in it. Lucky for him, he has a scapegoat in Boudreau.
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