Though most of the attention is rightfully on the playoff chase right now, today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a bit of a diversion and considers the team’s goalie situation for the 2019-20 season. I touched on this some in my March 13 article that detailed all of the Hurricanes players up for new contracts this summer.
The basics of that still hold, but let’s take a deeper dive into building out the goalie tandem for the 2019-20 season.
Freeing up a spot
The starting point for icing two goalies next season will be to buy out Scott Darling as long as nothing with his leave of absence impacts the team’s ability to do that. If that occurs as expected, the Hurricanes will end up paying Darling a total of $14.2 million for two years of service and 15 wins. That combination of price tag and results rivals the Alexander Semin deal that went awry pretty quickly. With a buy out, the Hurricanes will be tagged with a $1.37 million cap hit for four more years with the out of pocket costs being slightly less.
The case for the status quo
For multiple years, Canes fans have said that if the team could just get league average goaltending that it would be in the playoffs. Lo and behold, the team is finally getting better goaltending and though nothing is decided yet, it is still in the playoff hunt in the final days of March.
Especially if the team does push into the playoffs, bringing both goalies back is definitely a viable option. Scott McElhinney as much as any player helped boost the team early and kept it from dying an early death. More recently, Petr Mrazek has been the standout pulling out some incredible wins on nights when maybe the Hurricanes did not deserve it.
With both players being free agents this summer, the potential to upgrade one or both slots exists. But what would the team be seeking? And would the potential return really be worth the risk when the team has two goalies who seem to have settled in?
At 27 years old, a two or three-year deal is not outlandish at all for Petr Mrazek. And though Curtis McElhinney’s age of 35 suggests caution, his 2018-19 campaign suggest that he still has what it takes to at least be a backup. And for the price, the risk decreases.
What does it cost?
That is a difficult question to answer. Both goalies are coming off of bargain contracts. Mrazek accepted a ‘prove yourself’ contract of one year at only $1.5 million and has gone on to prove himself. McElhinney is coming of an $850,000 contract.
Both have earned raises, but the question is how much. As a 35-year old long-time backup, I do not see McElhinney with starter interest from other teams. As such, I think he hopes for and likely receives a good backup contract. He would likely to be happy to stretch to two years which adds a little risk for the team. And he would want a raise. I could see his next contract coming in at something like two years at $1.6 million per year. The extra year decreases the price a bit, and the $1.6 million salary balances out the risk.
Mrazek is harder to pinpoint. Right now, he seems to be playing his way up to a 1A/1B level and salary. Generally, that prices out at about $3 million per year. Jimmy Howard just re-signed with the Red Wings for $4 million which maybe offers a ceiling type number. Edmonton somewhat surprisingly re-signed Mikko Koskinen for $4.5 million per year. Jake Allen’s current contract is $4.35 million per year and Antti Raanta’s is $4.25 million per year. Those contracts seem to set the high end of the range. Last summer, Carter Hutton signed for $2.75 million per year, and Philipp Grubauer signed for $3.33 million. Those maybe make the case for more the $3 million 1A/1B price that I envision. In broad terms, I see the range for Mrazek as $2.75 million to $4 million per year for two or three years.
What about Alex Nedeljkovic?
After taking some time to adjust to the AHL level, 23-year old Alex Nedeljkovic seemed to put it all together midway through this year. He has been stellar of late for the Checkers and increasingly looks ready to make the jump to the NHL level. One could make a good case that next season is the time to elevate Nedeljkovic and start getting him into the mix at the NHL level. Another option would be to keep him as a #3 in Charlotte for one more year. In such a scenario, the hope would be to get him some NHL exposure. If he was called up as an injury replacement, the team would want to get him into the mix instead of just using him as a backup who does not play.
What about outside options?
If the Hurricanes wanted to try to upgrade, this summer could actually be a decent one for shopping the free agent market. Sergei Bobrovsky will likely require a high-risk contract to win. He will be 31 years old when the 2019-20 season starts so any team willing to pony up 5-7 years at a premium price has more of an appetite for risk than I do. In addition to Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Cam Talbot, Robin Lehner and others will be available.
Because of the risk, I would not enter the Bobrovsky bidding war. Past him, my question is whether any of the others represent a significant enough upgrade to justify the risk. After failed tries with Eddie Lack and Scott Darling, the Canes know clearly how significant the transition risk is.
So while there will be free agent options, it is not clear that any viable options represent enough of an upgrade to consider.
What I would do?
I will hedge a tiny bit and say “if the Canes make the playoffs”, but in general I would be up for bringing back both goalies as long as the terms are reasonable.
I would be willing to sign Petr Mrazek to be a long-term half of the tandem at about $3 million per year for two or three years. I think that is a fair middle ground for a player who hopefully wants to return.
Ideal would be to re-sign Curtis McElhinney to a one-year deal even if the salary is a bit high. Though nearing the end of career and seeking to be rewarded for a strong 2018-19 campaign, I could see his camp pushing for two years. If the yearly price stays down because of the two-year term, I would begrudgingly consider re-signing him for two years at say $1.5 million per year. That is a modest sum, but it is a substantial raise from his 2018-19 salary. Further, if Nedeljkovic did emerge somewhere along the way, that salary is one that could possibly be traded or otherwise is modest in terms of just eating the cost.
Though committing to a return of Mrazek and McElhinney at the NHL level, I would go out of my way to get Nedeljkovic some NHL ice time. If one of the goalies gets injured, I would make sure that Nedeljkovic gets NHL work when recalled as a backup. That will further his development with the next challenge and also give the team a chance to measure his readiness for NHL action.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Would you consider bringing back the current duo of Mrazek and McElhinney?
2) How would you go about getting Alex Nedeljkovic NHL ice time for 2019-20?
3) Are any of the free agent goalies players that you would consider?