Last week I posted sort of a part 1 for sorting out the goalie position for the Carolina Hurricanes. That article touched on some other things but primarily focused on the situation with Petr Mrazek and to some degree Curtis McElhinney and Alex Nedeljkovic.
If you missed it or want a refresher, you can find that article HERE.
The addition of Anton Forsberg
Since that article, nothing has really changed with Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney who seem destined to at least test free agency on July 1. But the Hurricanes did add Anton Forsberg in yesterday’s trade with the Blackhawks.
If pressed, the team will probably make the standard statement about the best player getting ice time at the NHL level, but in terms of expectations, I do not believe the team intends for Forsberg to compete for an opening day NHL spot. Rather, Forsberg is a good addition as a #3 playing in the AHL. He is an experienced goalie at 26 years old and has a decent amount of NHL run time. That role makes a ton of sense for the Hurricanes. With rookie Alex Nedeljkovic seemingly slotted for the backup role at the NHL level, it is wise to have insurance type depth in case his transition to the NHL hits a bump in the road.
So I see Forsberg as being a regular in the AHL but also ready on call as a #3 with NHL experience in the event of injuries or if Nedeljkovic proves not ready yet.
I think the biggest upshot of the Forsberg addition is that it makes McElhinney even less likely to return. That is because adding another AHL/NHL fringe goalie suggests that the team does intend to go with Nedeljkovic as the backup. And with a rookie as the backup, the team would want a goalie capable of more starts than I think is reasonable for McElhinney at 36 years old. So there really is not a place right now that fits what McElhinney can do.
On Petr Mrazek as an option
This might sound odd, but I still think that Petr Mrazek is the odds on favorite to be the team’s starting goalie come early October. Yes, the two sides have temporarily parted ways negotiation-wise, but I think this is part of a logical path to Mrazek still returning. With Mrazek, there is nothing to indicate that the team does not want him to return. There is also nothing to indicate that he is not open to returning. The gap right now is financials. As I discussed in more detail in the earlier article, I think the Hurricanes see Mrazek as a great 1A/1B type commitment for that type of price and 2-3 years. That contract looks something like three years for $3-3.5 million per year. After a strong finish to the 2018-19 season and with unrestricted free agency as an option, I think Mrazek has some incentive to at least check if more of a #1 contract is out there for 4-5 years at $4-5 million per year. There is definitely a game of musical chairs set to begin in earnest on July 1, but my expectation is that other teams will see Mrazek similarly as either a premium backup or a capable 1A/1B on an appropriate contract. If I am correct that there is not a team willing to commit to Mrazek as a #1 longer-term and for more salary, I think the chances are good that the Hurricanes and Mrazek will reengage with a good chance of reaching a deal much closer to the team’s side of the initial divide.
As noted above, a game of musical chairs is about to ensue when free agency opens on July. In addition to Mrazek and McElhinney, the free agent group includes Sergei Bobrovsky as the headliner but also interesting options in Robin Lehner, Semyon Varlamov, Mike Smith and Cam Talbot. The pool could also be increased as the dominoes fall. If a team with a goalie goes big on Bobrovsky, that could free up another goalie via trade. In addition, the emergence of Jordan Binnington could make Jake Allen available from St. Louis, and if Florida wins the Sergei Bobrovsky bidding war, James Reimer could also become available.
Long story short, there are a decent number of goalie options available but also a nearly equal number of suitors such that the musical chairs comparison if pretty apropos.
I do not see it. Some team is going to take on massive risk with a long-term deal for maximum dollars on a goalie who will be 31 years old before the 2019-20 starts. I think the Hurricanes will rightfully steer clear of this.
Lehner is an inspirational story and had a strong 2018-19 season for an Islanders team that maybe overachieved a bit just like the Hurricanes. His contract situation is pretty similar to Mrazek’s. The Islanders want him back, but the question is at what salary and term. In terms of ranking goalies, he would be a decent option, but in terms of it making sense, I doubt there is a fit. For a shorter contract at a modest price, he likely stays with the Islanders, so the only way he lands with the Hurricanes is if they decide to stretch on price and term. That is pretty much the same situation they are currently in with Mrazek.
Varlamov has had his ups and downs with the Colorado Avalanche, but his ceiling is high and he is a legitimate NHL starter. With the Avs set to go with Grubauer and youth, Varlamov is clearly a goalie who will move. Varlamov is 31 years old but could be a good option for a couple years while the Hurricanes figure out if Nedeljkovic is ready and able.
Talbot is an interesting case. When the Oilers seemed to be rising, he was part of that rise. But as the wheels have come off in Edmonton, Talbot has mostly been snowed under too. He would be a rebound candidate for the 2019-20 season somewhat similar to Mrazek last summer. Talbot has proven capable of being a capable NHL starter but was not that in 2018-19. Also like Mrazek last summer, that likely affects his price. There is a bet to be made on whether he just needs a change of scenery and a better defense in front of him. He is most similar to Mrazek from last summer.
Smith was at one time an above average NHL starter, but he struggled in 2018-19. He is 37 years old, so I think betting on a rebound is highly risky. I would pass.
With Jordan Binnington now the #1 in St. Louis, Jake Allen is likely available. His $4.35 million salary cap hit for the next two years is a bit pricey, but the Blues might pick up part of the salary. Allen has been an NHL starter but lost his job in 2018-19. He is yet another who would be a bit of a rebound hope.
If the Florida Panthers win the Sergei Bobrovsky auction, that could make James Reimer available. Florida still needs a backup, so they might still keep Reimer. But with a true #1 in net, the Panthers might also look to drop Reimer’s $3.4 million cap hit for the next two years. Reimer had three straight pretty good seasons before dipping a bit in front of a Panthers team that struggled in 2018-19. He is yet another rebound target in the middle price tier.
There are other teams that could use a 1B/upgrade, but the teams that definitely need to add a goalie include the Hurricanes, Islanders, Panthers and Flames. Basic math says that there are enough goalies to go around but not a ton extra. The balance is such that there should be some jockeying for position but not so much an all out bidding war.
My 2 cents
I feel about like I did last summer. Other than Bobrovsky who I would pass on, none of the options (including Mrazek) make me so excited that I would go overboard prioritizing/winning them. The group is largely middle of the pack or slightly lower but with both upside and risk. After successfully navigating a dicey situation last summer, it seems unfair to be right back at the same tricky decision point, but it is what it is.
For three years and a 1A/1B type salary I like Mrazek mostly because he is a known quantity with a bit of momentum coming out of the 2018-19 season. I really think the odds of Mrazek returning are higher than most people think.
Lehner is as good or better but only if he would take a 1A/1B type salary which seems unlikely. Past that I think Talbot is interesting. I like the bet that he was more of a victim of a poor defense than a bad goalie. If that is correct and if the Hurricanes can match their 2018-19 defense without Calvin de Haan, Talbot could seemingly receive a nice bounce because of the defense in front of him.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How aggressive would you be (if at all) in retaining Petr Mrazek?
2) Past Mrazek, how would you prioritize the other options?
3) Are there any other options that you would add to my list above?