If you ask any New Jersey Devils fan what could prevent them from winning the Stanley Cup, they’ll likely say the same thing: goaltending. Not since the heydays of Cory Schneider have the Devils had a “franchise” goalie. After making no changes to the position this past offseason, they ran it back with Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid. A third of the way into the season and that’s looking like a poor choice. However, recent rumours have suggested the Devils are going Duck hunting in Anaheim to find their franchise goalie once again, and his name is John Gibson.
John Gibson could draw significant interest from teams looking for goaltending.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) December 8, 2023
Trading for John Gibson
Why Trade for John Gibson?
A few years ago it would be next to impossible to acquire John Gibson. A mid-20’s year-old franchise goalie putting up elite-level numbers doesn’t get moved. Circumstances have changed personally for Gibson and for the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks. Despite a few lean couple of years, Gibson has had a fantastic bounce-back season in 2023-24 on a poor Ducks team. He boasts a 2.89 GAA and a 0.904 SV%. Numbers that aren’t particularly great, but when you consider how much better the Devils are defensively, those numbers should get much better. The Devils surrender the fourth fewest shot attempts and have the sixth-fewest expected goals against, but are also ranked 31st in team save percentage.
The Devils don’t have a go-to number-one goalie. They try to ride the hot hand, but when both hands are ice-cold the results are inconsistent. Gibson can be that go-to guy for the Devils. Behind a porous Ducks team with the 31st-ranked Goal Differential (-21), Gibson has managed a 1.3 GSAx. For comparison, the Devils have a -9 Goal Differential, yet Schmid has a -2.0 GSAx and Vanecek has a -5.5 GSAx. That combination of stats alone shows why the Devils need Gibson. Logically, the addition of Gibson behind a much better defence should improve his numbers to high-end number-one goalie territory.
Why the Devils Should Not Trade for John Gibson?
John Gibson is a much better goalie than anything the Devils have right now, but a lot is working against him. His numbers have been much better this year, but he is coming off of a horrendous 2022-23 where he put up a 3.99 GAA and a 0.899 SV%. His last solid season came back in 2018-19 when he had a 2.84 GAA and a 0.917 SV%. Gibson has been straddled to the Ducks rebuild for his prime mid to late 20s as their workhorse. It’s reasonable to ask how much juice the 30-year-old has left.
The other factor(s) to take into account is cost, both contract and trade compensation. Gibson makes $6.4 million for the next four seasons. The Devils currently have a little under $1.4 million in cap space. What the Devils have going for them is Dougie Hamilton’s $9 million on LTIR to fit Gibson in for this season. Also, the Devils are projecting to have a little over $19 million in cap space. The issue becomes if Gibson isn’t the answer, you’re stuck with him for three years eating away precious cap space.
And then there’s trade compensation. Ducks GM Pat Verbeek is a notoriously tough negotiator, making this a tricky trade for Tom Fitzgerald. The fate of their 2024 first-round pick won’t be known until the end of the season due to certain conditions. However, a first-round pick is likely the starting point. The Devils do have high-end prospects that may intrigue Anaheim such as Seamus Casey and Lenni Hämeenaho. As for what the compensation would be is anyone’s guess, but it’ll cost a lot. The main question Fitzgerald will have to ask himself is if it’s worth giving up more future assets for a goalie who’s not a slam dunk.
Should the Devils Do It?
The cop-out answer is it depends on the compensation. Taking that out of the equation, it’s a difficult decision to go all-in on Gibson. He is an upgrade over what they have now, but is he really that quality of goalie to push the chips into the middle for? The numbers haven’t been elite in quite a while, and if Fitzgerald has to move valuable draft capital and prospects, it should be for elite talent. Fitzgerald hasn’t been shy about making a big trade, and one would think he has multiple goalie options he can check on. If he does decide to make this move it makes the Devils a better team. However, there may be younger, cheaper and better options out there this offseason.
Main Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sport