Two years after he was unable to secure an NHL contract, Brian Gibbons turned his best NHL season in 2017-18 into a new, exciting opportunity to join the Ducks in Anaheim.
FOXBORO — Brian Gibbons knows the drill by now. He may not know the territory so well this time, but he does know someone who’s got that covered.
Gibbons, the 30-year-old forward from Braintree, Thayer Academy and Boston College, is about to make biggest move of his eight-year pro hockey career. After spending time with four Metropolitan Division organizations, he’s switching coasts to join the Ducks in Anaheim on a one-year, $1-million contract.
“Obviously, I’ve been around a lot,” said Gibbons, who previously played in the Penguins, Blue Jackets, Rangers and Devils organizations, “but this is my first time in the Western Conference. I’m definitely very excited for the opportunity.”
Gibbons isn’t alone. His wife Jenny is a native of Huntington Beach, California, “only 20 minutes from Anaheim, so she gets to go home this season,” Gibbons said.
“She’s been a real trooper, following me around. So we’re excited as a family. … It’s nice that it’s all worked out.”
In a way, the fact that Jenny was pregnant with the couple’s son, Ty, two summers ago, has led to the group moving west for the 2018-19 season.
Gibbons, who hadn’t been able to crack the Rangers’ lineup during his one season in that organization (2015-16), also couldn’t secure a firm NHL offer for 2016-17. Unwilling to explore European options because Ty was on the way, Gibbons accepted a training camp tryout invitation from the Devils — which didn’t work out, but also did.
Gibbons didn’t earn an NHL contract with the Devils, but did accept a one-year AHL offer to play for their top minor-league affiliate in Albany, N.Y. He went on to experience his best campaign at that level (16 goals, 20 assists for 36 points in 72 games), which led to a one-year, NHL/AHL deal with the Devils last year. More than two years after his most recent NHL game (March 6, 2015, with the Blue Jackets), Gibbons was in the Devils’ 2017-18 Opening Night lineup, and the only thing that knocked him out was a broken thumb sustained on Jan. 20 at Philadelphia.
Gibbons, who enjoyed by far the best of his three NHL experiences (he broke in as a third-year pro with the Penguins in 2013-14, putting up five goals and 17 points over 41 games), was one of the Devils’ top players over the first half of 2017-18. As the team navigated issues like Brian Boyle’s leukemia diagnosis (the Hingham native went on to win the NHL’s Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey) and assorted other injuries, Gibbons scored 12 goals by Dec. 12. No Devil had scored more.
“From the start, (head coach) John Hynes gave me a good opportunity,” Gibbons said. “I was told there’d be jobs open in training camp, and I was able to win one of them. I had a good start to the year, kind of got on a roll, and we were winning, which was good.”
After missing the playoffs for five straight seasons, the Devils qualified last year before losing a five-game, first-round series to the Lightning. While Gibbons didn’t score another goal after Dec. 12 (he missed 22 games with the thumb injury), the 26 points he scored over 59 games surpassed the 22 he’d scored over 66 career games with the Pens and Blue Jackets (0-5–5 in 25 games, 2014-15), and he remained a reliable third- and fourth-line presence and penalty-killer (three shorthanded goals).
While Gibbons’ career year was enough for him to score a spot with Team USA in the 2018 IIHF World Championships in Denmark, the Devils didn’t offer a new contract. The Ducks, however, snapped him up on July 2, the second day of the NHL’s free agent signing period, hoping the 5-foot-8, 175-pounder will boost their speed, penalty-killing and Bottom 6 scoring depth.
Gibbons, at a significant salary bump over last year’s $650,000, will be on his sixth straight year on a one-year contract. He’s used to that by now, and determined to make the most of it.
“It keeps you honest, for sure,” Gibbons said. “ You’ve always got to be on your game. I had a down year a couple years ago (2014-15, with the Blue Jackets and their Springfield AHL affiliate), and it took me two years to get back up and get another chance.
“It makes things interesting, but it’s the life we lead. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”