Colton Pankiw The Hockey Writers
Jonas Hiller’s Quick Spiral Out of the NHL
In the summer of 2014, the Calgary Flames made a big move when they signed free agent goaltender Jonas Hiller to a two-year, $9 million contract. At the time, this was considered a very good signing by the Flames, who struggled immensely in the goaltending department during the 2013-14 season. Signing Hiller brought stability to the position for them, as he had been a solid number one with the Anaheim Ducks for quite some time.
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The first year of this deal actually worked out quite well, as Hiller put up one of his better seasons statistically with a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (SV%). Even more importantly, he posted a 26-19-4 record which helped the Flames reach the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. They ended up losing out in the second round at the hands of Hiller’s former team, the Ducks, but all in all it was a very solid season for both him and the Flames.
The next season is where everything came crashing down for the Swiss netminder. The 2015-16 season was an absolute disaster for Hiller, who posted by far the worst numbers of his career with a putrid 3.51 GAA and a .879 SV%. As a result, he soon after signed a contract in Switzerland and was never seen in the NHL again. This was huge fall from grace for the former All-Star goalie, which leads to the question, what happened to Hiller?
Hiller didn’t have a path that most NHL starting goalies have. He went undrafted and spent the first six seasons of his professional career in Switzerland. Those years were highly successful for him, as he won three championships as well as two Spengler Cups. His play, especially at the Spengler Cup tournaments, gave him exposure to NHL teams. After the ending of the 2007 season, he signed his first NHL contract as a 25-year-old with the Ducks.
Hiller played in 23 games with the Ducks in his first season in North America, posting a sparking 2.06 GAA and a .927 SV%. The following season, he began his transition to a number one NHL goalie, as he split the net evenly with Jean-Sebastien Giguere. During the 2010-11 season, Giguere was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, making Hiller the undisputed starting goalie. He had many great seasons as the number one, none better than the 2010-11 season which saw him appear in his first and only All-Star game.
Unfortunately for Hiller, his season took a very bad turn shortly after his All-Star appearance. Just days later, Hiller started for the Ducks before telling team trainers he felt slow and lightheaded. As a result, he was out of the lineup for the next four games before returning to play the Edmonton Oilers. Everything appeared to be okay again, as he posted a shutout. However, the symptoms reappeared, and he was then shut down for the team’s next 15 games.
His last appearance of the season ended up coming on Mar. 24, where yet again the symptoms, which had been diagnosed as vertigo, came back. This was extremely disappointing for Hiller and the Ducks team as a whole, as they had appeared to be Stanley Cup contenders. Instead, the team lost in the second round, in large part due to inconsistent goaltending from both Ray Emery and Dan Ellis. That summer, he announced that he was symptom free, and continued to be the Ducks starting goalie for three more seasons before signing with the Flames.
As mentioned previously, Hiller’s first season with the Flames was quite successful. Many projected the rebuilding team to finish near the bottom of the standings, however thanks in large part to his great play they were able to shock the league and make the playoffs. (from ‘Flames are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2009,’ Calgary Herald, 04/10/2015)
Despite the great regular season, Hiller struggled in the playoffs, which came to a surprise to many as he had become known for raising his play in high pressure games with both the Ducks and internationally. Due to his postseason struggles, he had a lot to prove heading into the 2015-16 season.
Obviously, that season did not go as Hiller or the Flames were hoping. His disastrous numbers of a 3.51 GAA and a .879 SV%, as previously stated, were by far the worst of his career. Though he was expected to be the starter again that season, he played so poorly that he only ended up appearing in 26 games, posting a 9-11-1 record.
Back to Europe
Just a week after his rough season with the Flames ended, Hiller signed a three-year deal with EHC Biel back in Switzerland. (from Former Flames netminder Jonas Hiller signs in Swiss League,’ Calgary Herald, 04/20/2016) This signing seemed somewhat surprising given the fact he didn’t at least wait until NHL free agency started to see if he would’ve gotten any sort of interest.
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Sure, he was just coming off of a bad season, but given his previous track record there may have been some teams willing to give the then 34-year-old a shot. After his three-year contract was up, he re-signed a one-year deal with EHC Biel before retiring this past March.
It seems that had Hiller wanted to continue playing he could have, as he posted very respectable numbers during his four seasons in Switzerland, including the most recent one where he put up a 2.48 GAA and a .918 SV%.
Despite Hiller’s NHL career falling off and ending much sooner than anyone had predicted, it was still quite impressive. There are not many players who can say they went undrafted and went on to become an NHL All-Star. He is without a doubt the best Swiss-born goaltender of all time, having played 404 career NHL games. The next closest is Martin Gerber, who finished with 229. In those 404 games, he accumulated a very solid 2.55 GAA along with a .914 SV% and a record of 197-140-37.
In addition to his 404 game NHL career, Hiller additionally played 402 games in the Swiss-A league, where he was almost always the league’s best goaltender. He also had the opportunity to represent Switzerland twice at the Winter Olympics, once in 2010 and the other in 2014. Though he may be remembered by some for his poor final NHL season, he made an estimated career earnings of $28.65 million, and deservedly so given his stellar career.
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