The Carolina Hurricanes’ inaugural season was hindered by inconsistent goaltending. In the late summer of 1998, they signed a netminder who had already become a folk hero in one market.
Five goalies saw action for the Carolina Hurricanes during their first season in North Carolina. Former Calgary Flames first-round pick Trevor Kidd fared the best, putting up 21 wins along with a respectable goals-against average (2.17) and save percentage (.922).
Of the four other goalies, three gave up an average of 3 goals per game; none had a save percentage above .900. As solid as Kidd was, he wouldn’t be enough. The search for help in goal stretched on until mid-September when Arturs Irbe was signed as a free agent.
Irbe had spent 5 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, molding himself into a reliable goaltender and an icon for the fledgling expansion team. The highlight of his time in Silicon Valley came in the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the diminutive goalie led San Jose to a seven-game upset of the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit—the West’s top-seeded team—was a Cup contender and heavily favored to oust the third-year Sharks.
Prior to the 1996-97 season, Irbe signed with the Dallas Stars to back up veteran started Andy Moog. With his time in Texas failing to impress, Irbe found himself without a team in the summer of 1997. The Vancouver Canucks came calling, bringing him on board as part of their rotation. Irbe did okay, improving his save percentage, though it wasn’t enough to entice Vancouver into bringing him back.
So after two middling seasons, the 31-year-old found himself once again without a team.
That is until Carolina Hurricanes’ GM Jim Rutherford came calling.