Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe emerged from evaluating the weekend’s blockbuster trade and speculated about “What’s next?”
The focal point of the article was the likely ongoing trade discussion, but the article also revisited the what I deemed the three biggest needs back in early June. Front and center as it has been for awhile now was goaltending. Current indications are that the Hurricanes will give Scott Darling a second chance and that the team will part ways with Cam Ward. That opens up one very important slot in the lineup to add a goalie capable of being the #1 if Darling does not rebound.
Especially if the Hurricanes are still engaged in high stakes wheeling and dealing with Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk, there could also be numerous trade options at goalie. But the free agent list also offers a couple options that could rival the trade options without spending trade assets to make the addition.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe starts by evaluating the free agent goalie options available and then takes a quick look at a handful of trade targets that could be available.
Hutton’s name seems to be at the top of the list of free agents available and for decent reason. His 2017-18 numbers are arguably the most impressive of any goalie available. The 2.09 goals against average and .931 save percentage that he posted on the way to a 17-7-3 record are impressive. And he posted lower but still pretty good results in the year prior. As far as backup goalies who look possibly ready to take the next step, Hutton would be top of the class. But that’s just the thing. He would be the Hurricanes third bet on a backup who can make the transition from backup to #1 and also to a new team and city at the same time. Based on how well that worked with Eddie Lack and Scott Darling, I am utterly horrified about the prospect of trying that formula again.
Bernier has become a bit of a journeyman, but he is still only 29 years old and like Hutton is coming off of a strong 2017-18 season in a backup role but with a stretch filling in for the starter. In 2017-18, Bernier posted a solid 19-13-3 record with a .913 save percentage and 2.85 goals against average. He also dazzled at times suggesting he was on an upswing. He had similarly heavy workloads in a complementary role in the prior two seasons and does have experience as a starter back in Toronto for two years. His numbers are not quite as impressive as Hutton’s and the inconsistency rap on him could be a concern, but Bernier’s resume includes two interesting things. First, he has actually been a starter. Second, as a journeyman, he has experience three times changing teams and settling into a new environment without missing a beat. Both of those resume points are things that Lack and Darling did not possess.
Unlike the two goalies above, Lehner is coming off of a weaker season. The Sabres were such a train wreck in 2017-18 that it is hard to tell how much of that to pin on Lehner and how much to just chalk up to the team in front of him. His .908 save percentage and 3.01 goals against average in 2017-18 are a concern as is his issues with dealing with frustration at times. But a positive is the fact that he has actually been a starting goalie in each of the last two years. As such, he would rate highest of the unrestricted free agents as very simply being a starting goalie versus trying to become a starting goalie.
As a goalie who once stole the starting job from Jimmy Howard, he has some amount of run time as a starter. But more recently, Mrazek has been inconsistent to the point where it cost him that starting job and eventually earned a ticket out of Detroit. Mrazek has NHL-level ability, but he would be a risky reclamation type bet coming out of the 2017-18 season.
Other free agent options
I do not see any of the other options that include Chad Johnson, Andrew Hammond, Ondrej Pavelec, Anton Khudobin as being in the same tier as the three above. Similarly, I actually like Cam Ward as a backup but not in a situation where the Hurricanes need another goalie capable of being a #1 if Darling does not rebound.
The trade market
Philipp Grubauer who represented a good trade option was dealt to Colorado taking him off the table, but there could be a few other goalies available via trade.
With the tumultuous times in Ottawa Craig Anderson is allegedly available. Maybe a bit like Lehner, he had a tough regular season in front of a poor hockey team in 2017-18. His .898 save percentage and 3.32 goals against average do not inspire confidence. But just a year earlier, he posted a .926 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average in helping the Senators make the playoffs. At 37 years old, Anderson is not a long-term solution but perhaps his volume of NHL experience could be what makes him unflappable in a new situation and therefore the best for the job.
With Luongo entering the 2018-19 healthy (so far), might Florida look to unload Reimer and his salary. He is maybe a bit like Bernier as a goalie who once held a starting job but has bounced back to a backup role since then.
Other trade options
In addition to Anderson who seems likely to be available, there are other goalies who maybe could be pried loose in a big deal. San Jose has an extra in Aaron Dell who would be in a similar category as Hutton as a strong backup. The Oilers floundered and need blue line help. Could that make Cam Talbot available for the right trade price? If Jeff Skinner and/or Justin Faulk are available as trade assets, other options could also emerge.
My 2 cents
I am on record as declaring the Holy Grail to be a trade that sees the Hurricanes retain some salary, possibly take on Marian Hossa’s contract and then returns Scott Darling to Chicago which opens up both goalie slots. I think it could work but acknowledge that it is a low probability.
As such, I see the Hurricanes looking to maximize the one open roster slot that they have at the position. My starting point is to say that I am so enamored with any of the options that I am dying to lock one of them in for three or four years. After consecutive misses at the position, I would be happy to do a one-year, prove it deal and possibly having to pay more on a second deal if it goes well. The Hurricanes have paid enough for lack of success at the goalie position in recent years, so I would be happy to overpay for actual success this time around.
Based on that, I would not winning any crazy bidding wars with big $ or too long of term. I waver a bit on my choice, but possibly because I am just so gun shy at this point, I dislike the idea of adding a player like Hutton represents a third straight try at converting a backup to a starter. So on a short-term deal Lehner is an interesting option. Especially if Ottawa would eat some salary, Craig Anderson could be interesting. I would be looking for a strong ‘yes’ vote from the scouting department to say that they are convinced that he still has a year or two left.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you put the financials and other logistics to the side for a minute, which of these goalies (or someone else) do you like best?
2) What is the deal you would try to do?
3) Would you consider biting the bullet and buying Darling out to open both slots?