Camp Tour: Ducks' season riding on Hiller
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- If the Honda Center was made entirely of wood, one figures Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle and GM Bob Murray might spend their entire time these days knocking on every inch of the building.
And holding their breath, too.
For if there's an overriding factor that will help shape the success of their NHL season, and one that's completely out of their control, it's the health of No. 1 goalie Jonas Hiller.
"Arguably, before he got injured last year, he was an MVP candidate because he carried our team through November and December," Murray told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "If he's healthy, I think that puts us in the running for a playoff spot. And all indications right now is that he's fine. He's not in the trainer's room. He's going about his business."
The Swiss netminder was going about his business last season, turning in a brilliant first half that saw him selected as the only goalie from the Western Conference to make the All-Star Game. His name was routinely on most people's Vezina lists. Then, out of nowhere, vertigo-like symptoms annihilated his second half, limiting him to three appearances.
"It was a tough stretch at the end of last year," Hiller told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "Just mentally ... nobody could really tell you what caused the whole thing or how long it would take. It was really a tough second half last season. I'm glad to be feeling better and being able to play again."
The concern, of course, for Hiller and the Ducks is, since no one quite knows how he got the condition to begin with, it might return. But so far so good at camp, and there have been no symptoms since June.
"Hopefully it was a one-time thing," Hiller said. "But I can't worry about it. I'm just happy I feel better. I feel good on the ice."
Hiller is going through his normal routine so far at camp, although the Ducks are keeping a closer eye on him than usual. It's a concern the Ducks can't ignore. Carlyle couldn't help but think about it all summer.
"In reality, you can't do anything other than worry," Carlyle said Tuesday. "You worry about it and then you try to deal with the 'if.' There's Plan A and Plan B. Obviously when a player missed the amount of time he missed ... we talked about monitoring the situation more in depth, and that's what is taking place right now. It'll all be about what the player has to say. If he says he's 100 percent ready, when it's time to go, he'll play."
And five days in, camp has gone as planned.
"Yeah, I've been skating normally with the team," Hiller said. "It hasn't been an issue. I also skated before camp at home [in Switzerland] for quite a while, which gave me confidence, allowed me to feel the puck again and get the timing right."
Hiller first returned to the ice at Francois Allaire's Swiss goalie camp in mid-July. That was a big test.
"That was pretty good for me because I already felt better than I did when I left Anaheim after the season," Hiller said. "That gave me confidence. And from the second week of August, I skated with the team in Bern, and that was good. Every day that went by, I started feeling better and feeling right again."
The real test, of course, still awaits.
"Those first preseason games will be a test," said Hiller, who wasn't in the lineup for Tuesday night's preseason opener at the Honda Center.
The expectation is he might make his preseason debut sometime this weekend when the Ducks have three games in three days.
"Games are different than practice," Hiller said. "I have to figure out how that's going to go, but I'm confident, I feel good on the ice and in practice, and hopefully the same will be the case in the games."
Only the Ducks' season is riding on it.