Carolina Hurricanes: Goalie Options for 2016-2017 Season

Mar 5, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer (34) defends against Vancouver Canucks in the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer (34) defends against Vancouver Canucks in the first period at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Carolina Hurricanes continue to fall out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, the focus will start to shift towards the 2016-2017 season, and the biggest question is the goaltending.

The Carolina Hurricanes have shown signs of brilliance throughout the 2015-2016 season, but they still find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race. The biggest reason for this is the inconsistent play of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.

Ward and Lack have struggled, especially in the first half of the season, to stay at league average numbers, and even today, they both sport goals against average and save percentage numbers below the NHL average.

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The question mark in net puts the Hurricanes in a tough spot going into the new year. With Cam Ward’s contract expiring, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis has to examine all of his options and whether or not he wants to bring back the long-time anchor for the franchise.

For starters, let’s take a look at the top goalies who will be hitting the open market on July 1. Included are their 2015-2016 stats.

Free Agent Options

Jonas Hiller (CGY) – 9-10-1, 3.41 GAA, .883 SV%, 1 shutout

Karri Ramo (CGY) – 17-18-1, 2.63 GAA, .909 SV%, 1 shutout

James Reimer (TOR/SJ) – 14-13-7, 2.35 GAA, .922 SV %, 2 shutouts

Chad Johnson (BUF) – 17-15-3, 2.41 GAA, .919 SV%, 1 shutout

Jhonas Enroth (LAK) – 6-5-1, 2.01 GAA, .930 SV%, 2 shutouts

Al Montoya (FLA) – 10-5-3, 2.04 GAA, .924 SV%, 0 shutouts

While none of the names above standout as elite names, several of them could be upgrades over Cam Ward.

James Reimer has had a great season split between the Maple Leafs and Sharks. He started the year on a dreadful Toronto team, and he was able to post very respectable numbers with a 2.49 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Since he joined the Sharks via trade, he has been spectacular, posting a pair of shutouts in four starts.

Reimer, 28, also has playoff experience dating back to the 2013 season, though it ended very poorly as the Maple Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead in the opening round to the Boston Bruins. That season, he posted a 19-8-5 record with a 2.46 goals against average and .924 save percentage with four shutouts.

He has had his fair share of ups and downs throughout his career, but if he hits the open market this summer, there’s no doubt that a plethora of teams will be knocking at his door asking for his services.

Chad Johnson and Jhonas Enroth are a pair of less proven goalies who are having good showings this season.

Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes /

Carolina Hurricanes

Johnson has been more consistent over the years in a backup role. He sports a career 2.41 goals against average and .916 save percentage, splitting time with the Rangers, Coyotes, Bruins, Islanders, and Sabres. He has gotten a career-most 33 starts with the Sabres this season, and he has a 17-15-3 record with a 2.41 goals against average and .919 save percentage. That’s very impressive given the team he is playing behind. Buffalo ranks 23rd in shots against per game (30.9) and 25th in even strength Corsi percentage (47.47).

Enroth had a pretty below average go of things through his first four full seasons as a backup with the Sabres. He posted goals against average numbers in the 2.60-2.80 range with better save percentage numbers, getting as high as .919 in 2013 and as a low as .907 in 2010-2011.

His numbers fell off in 2014-2015, his final season with the Sabres. With Buffalo, he was 13-21-2 in 35 starts with a 3.27 goals against average and .903 save percentage. He was dealt to the Dallas Stars prior to the trade deadline, and he saw his numbers improve being on a better team. Enroth logged a 2.38 goals against average and a .906 save percentage with the Stars.

This season has been very good for Enroth with the Kings, backing up one of the league’s premier goalies in Jonathan Quick. He has a 6-5-1 record with a 2.01 goals against average and .930 save percentage. He is on track for career-highs in both goals against average and save percentage.

Of the pending free against goalies, Reimer, Johnson, and Enroth seem to be the best options. Narrowing it down a little more, I’d go with one of Reimer or Johnson, with Reimer being the top pick.

Reimer has had a great season with a bad Toronto team, and he’s been even better since joining a playoff-bound Sharks club. Johnson has also played well in a bad situation out in Buffalo, and he has been a very good backup for years.

They both look like potential upgrades over Cam Ward and could form a solid goalie duo alongside Eddie Lack, who, hopefully, will be better and more comfortable in his second year in Carolina.

Trade Options

The Carolina Hurricanes have done well stockpiling draft picks for both 2016 and 2017. In June, the Canes will have seven selections in the first three rounds.

With all those picks available, the team has a lot of assets available for trades, including one for a goalie.

There are a lot of teams that have an excess of goalies, with the Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Philadelphia Flyers leading the way in that regard.

With the rumored NHL Expansion Draft set for June of 2017 and teams only being allowed to protect one goalie, teams with numerous legitimate goalies will be looking to get whatever they can for them. They don’t want to risk losing them for nothing in the draft.

The Anaheim Ducks have a pair of backstops in All-Star John Gibson and established starter Frederik Andersen.

Anaheim won’t part ways with Gibson, who was an All-Star this year at the age of 22, so Andersen will likely be a name that will float around a lot in trade rumors.

Andersen has an interesting past with the Canes – he was drafted by Carolina in the seventh round of the 2010 draft then didn’t sign with the team. That saga went down with former general manager Jim Rutherford, who is now at the helm of the Pens.

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One would assume that hard feelings have passed by now, and with Ron Francis now the top man in the Hurricanes organization, it indicates the beginning of a new era in Raleigh.

Andersen is still just 26-years-old, and he has already established himself as a very good starting goalie in the NHL through three seasons. In a career-high 54 appearances a season ago, he posted a 2.38 goals against average and .914 save percentage with a playoff-bound Ducks squad.

This season, he has been even better. In 39 games, he has a 2.17 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

It’s also worth nothing that he will be a restricted free agent this offseason, so if the Ducks aren’t willing to dish out a lot of money for the goalie, they could trade his rights to Carolina, assuming that there’s confirmation that Andersen would sign a deal with the Canes. The Hurricanes have already been burned once by the Danish goalie.

Andersen would be a fantastic option, and he’s still young. He fits in very well with where this team is going.

On to Pittsburgh, where they have to make a decision with goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray. Like Anaheim, it’s fair to assume that Pittsburgh will roll with the young stud, Murray, over their aging netminder, Fleury.

Fleury has been the long-time starter in Pittsburgh, and he helped lead the Pens to a Stanley Cup in 2009. He has an impressive NHL resume, but there’s a lot of question marks with him, the first of which being his contract.

He will be under contract through the 2018-2019 season. He will be 34 by the end of that deal, so the question that begs to be asked is, will he hold up that long and be worth his $5.75 million price tag.

Fleury also has been infamous for struggling in the playoffs. He has been drastically worse in the postseason, and with a team poised to making a lot of noise in April in May in the next few years, that is troubling.

The good thing about Fleury would be that he is more than an acceptable stopgap for Alex Nedeljkovic, who is likely three or four years away from being good enough to play in the NHL.

With Pittsburgh’s cap issues, they will also likely be looking for some draft picks to go the other way, and the Hurricanes certainly have a plethora of those available.

Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard also falls in the same category as Fleury, but his numbers over the past three season are hardly upgrades over Cam Ward.

Philadelphia also has a pair of interesting names in Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. They will likely opt to deal Neuvirth, who is under contract through next season. He has been great for the Flyers, posting a 2.28 goals against average and .925 save percentage. He would likely be a much cheaper option than both of Fleury or Andersen.

Of those options above, Andersen and Neuvirth make the most sense. Fleury’s price tag would likely be too high, and there’s no guarantee that they’d part ways with him soon. Neuvirth is more realistic due to the fact that he will likely require much fewer assets going the other way, and the final year of his contract could serve as a tryout period for him to see if he is worth a spot on the roster going forward.

Lack and Ward Share Starts

The experiment of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack has had questionable results at best. A slow start from both goalies put Carolina, a team with dynamite possession numbers, well outside the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

As of late, both goalies have upped their play, and in turn, the Hurricanes have bounced back into the playoff conversation.

The Canes can’t afford another slow start from their goalie tandem, which makes bringing back Ward a risky move for the organization. He will also be turning 33 next season.

Bringing back Ward would also mean signing him to a new contract. He will assuredly be getting substantially less than his current $6.3 million salary, meaning term will likely be the biggest issue in contract talks.

The biggest road block in extension talks with Eric Staal was the length of the deal, so a deal that brings Ward back would be short term, in the one to two-year range.

Statistically, Ward has outperformed Lack, posting a a 20-15-9 record with a 2.42 goals against average and .909 save percentage. Those numbers, on the surface, aren’t terrible, but the manner in which he allows his goals are concerning. It seems that every night, he puts up a solid performance, but he lets in at least one soft goal that he should not be allowing.

There’s risk in bringing back Cam Ward, but it’s also the safest option, meaning this is a likely outcome for the team, even though it isn’t the best option.

Lack Starts

The plausible final option is giving Eddie Lack the reigns and giving him a full year as the starting goalie for the Hurricanes. This one is, by far, the most risky option.

Lack has had a solid three years in a backup role with the Canucks and Hurricanes, but he has yet to prove that he is anything more than a fringe starter.

He is putting up career-lows in both goals against average (2.68) and save percentage (.905) while sharing starts with Cam Ward.

An argument can be made that he will improve next year when he is more comfortable with the team and the organization, but to make the assumption that he can handle a starting role is probably unjust.

For the immediate future, he is likely better off in a backup role behind a solid starter until he can prove that he can do more than that. As a backup option, Lack seems to be a good fit with this team given how well he gets along with his teammates. Backup goalies are known for being the most popular player on a hockey team, and Lack certainly seems to be living up to that so far.

Next: Hurricanes Losing Ground in Eastern Conference Playoff Race

There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered between now and the start of the 2016-2017 season, and the goalie situation ranks near the top of the list for the Carolina Hurricanes.