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.
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.
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.
Via Corsica, at 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’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.