FlamesNation Player Evaluations: Jonas Hiller

Jonas Hiller had spent his NHL career being, at worst, an average starter. He even experienced a resurgence when the Anaheim Ducks decided to move on from him and the Calgary Flames picked him up: playing 52 games for the Flames last season, he posted a .918 SV% (.927 ES SV%, 11th amongst goalies with at least 40 games played), and was a huge part of their stabilization en route to a surprise season.

So his sudden cliff-diving this season was surprising. And a pretty big part of the reason why the Flames’ year went the way it did.

Season summary

Hiller fell from said .918 SV% to .879%, easily the worst of his career – prior to that, his worst year came in 2011-12, when he was probably overworked after playing an obscene 73 games that season, and he still put up a .910 SV% then. Hiller’s even strength save percentage was .899% – right at the bottom of the league, and unable to even climb into the .900 mark.

He started his season persevering through the Flames’ three-goalie mess for most of October, finally being named starter; not even four games into that, he was injured and out for a month. By the time he returned, Ramo had taken over his role, and didn’t relinquish it until his own injury. Hiller got it back, but finally, after several unspectacular games in a row, Joni Ortio was given the starter’s net – and that was that.

jonas hiller sv

Most of his year was spent on the bench. He looked okay to start, but it really didn’t last long at all, and his time riding the pine was wholeheartedly deserved.

Hiller had one shutout, but it was a 15-save effort in a 6-0 win over the Florida Panthers, not through any particular heroic efforts on his part. Really, the closest Hiller ever came to heroism was when he suddenly had to step in when Karri Ramo suffered a season-ending injury on Feb. 11 against the Sharks. He came in for the final eight minutes of a 5-5 game and not only preserved overtime, but, coming in cold, made several mindblowing saves to get it to a shootout, which his team won.

And that was basically that.

Situational circumstances

Via Corsica, at 5v5:

hiller 5v5

Hiller’s low-danger save percentage was 97.09%, which isn’t so bad! At least, not until you realize that placed him 38th in the NHL amongst all goalies who played at least 20 games.

Things really start to fall apart once opposing players got closer to him – something the Flames’ defence was all too good at letting happen this past season. Hiller’s medium-danger save percentage was 88.15%, which was the worst among all 58 goalies to play at least 20 games throughout the year. Eddie Lack was just ahead of him with 89.52% – every other goalie at least hit 90.00%.

Hiller’s high-danger save percentage, meanwhile, 80.77% – this time, 52nd amongst all goalies with 20 games played. He was better than John Gibson, Kari Lehtonen, Pekka Rinne, Michael Hutchinson, Keith Kinkaid, and Linus Ullmark: mostly backups, although Gibson and Rinne being worse than Hiller in this regard is eyebrow-raising, to say the least.

Meanwhile, on the penalty kill:

hiller pk

Hiller’s low-danger save percentage was 87.8% – 63rd out of all goalies to play at least 60 minutes shorthanded, better than only Steve Mason, Anders Lindback, and Connor Hellebuyck. His medium-danger save percentage was 72.00% – 65th, and better than only Andrei Vasilevskiy. And his high-danger save percentage was 73.17% – 51st, and better than another 15 goalies with at least 60 shorthanded minutes played.

If anything sunk Hiller this year, it was his inability to stop the puck in terms of medium-danger shots. He wasn’t great at low or high-danger ones, either, but he was pretty much the absolute worst in the entire NHL regarding medium-danger shots: and it wasn’t okay.

What comes next?

We already know the answer to this. Hiller was never going to be back, not after his performance this past season, no matter how much good will he’d built up over his career. Instead, he’s going back home to Switzerland, having signed a three-year deal with EHC Biel just 10 days after the Flames’ season was over.

It’s a shame his NHL career came to such an abrupt end, but Hiller was genuinely one of the worst goalies in the NHL this past season. With so few roster spots available to goaltenders and so many pushing for them – especially much younger players – this was simply it.

  • deantheraven

    Many times over the season when the cameras panned to the bench and we saw Hiller there, more often than not he looked like a sulking kid who’s been told to stand in the corner when he was convinced he didn’t do anything wrong. One particular time stands out when Bouma (I think) went arse over tea kettle right in front of him , Hiller was so busy studying a chart or graph or The Sun holiday section that he barely reacted when Bouma flopped over the boards into Hiller’s lap.
    I think he’d already quit caring by then. Maybe he’d been told or maybe he read the writing on the locker room wall, but he truly looked like knew it was his last year and rather than go out with a bang, he went out with a shrug.
    Except that game when Ramo went down. Dunno if he wanted to prove something or if he was simply possessed once again by the fire, but he looked to be back that night. And then…
    Hopefully he’ll regain some enthusiasm back home in Switzerland. Nice contract,mom’s home cooking, who knows?

    • Greatsave

      Like Roatis said: “interpretations”.

      Backup goalies nowadays are known to be an active part of the game by helping the coaches with menial tasks like charting faceoffs or what-not. It is unjustified to say Hiller wasn’t focused on the game because he had a bunch of papers and a clipboard in his hands and didn’t see Bouma coming nor come to his rescue. Similarly, I can say that Hiller had his hands full, not to mention in full goalie gear, so it’s best to let the trainer handle helping Bouma up instead of Hiller who would be clumsy in the circumstances. You can say that all he did was look on and laugh, but hell Bouma thought it was funny as hell too judging by the grin he had as he got up. So cut this crap about “already quit caring” or “went out with a shrug”.

  • jakethesnail

    I am sure that his agent was in touch with Swiss teams by Christmas, if not earlier. Hiller’s mind was probably on the team he would play for, moving his family and belongings to Switxerland, etc.

    Hiller was the main reason the Flames finished out of the playoffs.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I’m not sure why this article was even written because Hiller won’t be back with the Flames and, indeed, he won’t even be in the NHL next season. Holiday filler?

  • Christian Roatis

    He was bad, but I think the venom in these comments is unwarranted.

    He did provide us all with a great season in 14/15, and it’s not like he was horrid on purpose. Eventually, it all comes crashing down for goalies. Happened to Kiprusoff in a similar way in his last season too. It’s actually scary how similar those numbers for Hiller and Kiprusoff – across the board – in their last NHL seasons are.

    He also handled everything like a professional. The “sulking” is all interpretation, he never came out and criticized the sewer that was the 3-goalie system, he never complained or bitched about his situation or created any off-ice problems. Can’t blame a guy for securing himself a job when it was clear he was losing his current one. I fully respect Jonas Hiller.

    • Stan

      Rofl. Hiller has been well documented as completely blaming his teammates and throwing them under the bus after losses. He completely lost my respect after I heard about that. You win and lose as a team Hiller, blaming your teammates gets you nowhere and just reflects badly on yourself.

    • Wheels

      He was getting paid $4.5 million to be the worst regular goalie in the NHL this season. You better be a good goalie to be getting paid that kind of money, especially with his profile.

      • Christian Roatis

        Yeah, and that was unfortunate but it wasn’t his fault, per se. At least not in intention. You cant explain phenomena like that of a goalie suddenly falling off a cliff. It’s the combination of a myriad of things going wrong.

        And the money argument is really bogus imo. You and I would gladly accept 4.5 million and start 26 games for the Flames, knowing full well we’d be historically horrendous. So let’s not pretend Hiller did something wrong by accepting that money, a contract he had fully earned up to that point. He is 34, the cliff jump was bound to happen soon.

        I know I’m coming off as a Hiller apologist – which even I find strange cause I actually don’t care in the slightest about him – I just think it’s unjust to attack him or his character for an on-ice unravelling we’ve seen countless times before, including from my all-time favourite hockey player mentioned above, Kipper.