The Carolina Hurricanes want to win the Stanley Cup. The Caniac Nation wants them to win the Cup even more. But in order to do so, the ‘Canes will need to consistently build upon the foundation that GM Ron Francis has laid this offseason.
The 2014-15 season will be a series of small challenges and battles that the ‘Canes will need to overcome, as well as solve some of the problems that have plagued the team over the last five seasons that have caused them to miss the playoffs.
One of those problems was not having a quality backup for Cam Ward. That issue was resolved last year with the acquisition of Anton Khudobin. And during last season Khudobin proved that he can be a starting goaltender in the NHL.
Ward, on the other hand, has had a series of inconsistent, injury-filled, average seasons for the last few years. This poses a new issue that needs to be resolved this season, and as soon as possible: Who is going to be the starting goaltender for the Hurricanes for the forseeable future?
There are a number of options Coach Bill Peters will be evaluating over the next few months. One option that could suit the team, at least for the first few months of the upcoming season, is one that the San Jose Sharks used during the 2006-07 season.
The Sharks had a similar situation as the one the ‘Canes currently have. Their starting goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, had a below average season in 2005-06 filled with inconsistent play. Meanwhile, Vesa Toskala emerged as a quality NHL netminder and replaced Nabokov as the starting goaltender towards the end of the season.
Nabokov and Toskala both returned to the Sharks for the 2006-07 season and had good training camps. Sharks then-coach Ron Wilson faced the decision of which goaltender to name the starter. Instead of doing so, he would alternate who the starting goaltender would be from game to game. Only on rare occasions would Nabokov or Toskala start multiple games in a row.
Both goaltenders had an equal amount of playing time to determine who was the better candidate for the starting job. Later on in the season, Nabokov’s numbers continued to get better and was awarded the starting job for the remainder of the year.
Bill Peters and company should employ this model to adequately determine who can lead the Hurricanes back to the playoffs. Khudobin and Ward both have shown times of true prowess and the fact that they can be counted on in dire situations. Having the two goalies alternate starts will push both goalies to play their best each time they are named the starter.
Many fans will say that Khudobin deserves to be the starting goalie when the season starts based on how he played last year, and how much he outplayed Ward. While Khudobin’s numbers were undoubtedly better than Ward’s, Ward is still a grade-A goaltender in the NHL and deserves a chance to regain the starting spot.
Personally, I feel this team just needs someone who will show up and give this team a chance to win each and every night. If that means Khudobin is the starting goaltender right out of training camp, then so be it. If that means Ward is the starter right out of training camp, then so be it. But if it also means that the team needs to experiment with both goalies for the first part of the season so that both goalies can find a rhythm and play their best, then that’s what this team needs to do.
This team needs a guy who can be counted on each night. Only time will tell who deserves to be that guy.