Today the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they had extended goalie Eddie Lack by 2 years at $2.75 million per year. (He was due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.) With Cam Ward also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Canes had neither of its goalies signed past this season. Now the team at least has 1 coming back.
Like most of Ron Francis’ moves it seemed to come out of the blue without any forwarning, rumors or anything. I think that is important to keep in mind as rumors continue to emerge about Eric Staal’s situation. Is it more likely that information leaked out of Ron Francis’ office? Or is it more likely that the information is fabricated? Based on the complete lack of leaked information on anything else, I am officially skeptical of anyone claiming to have inside information on Eric Staal’s contract status.
But back to the Eddie lack signing…
For Ron Francis: This is an aggressive move. Eddie Lack has yet to play a regular season game for the team. $2.75 million would be about $1.2-1.5 million too much if things do not really work out and he becomes a backup. But with Lack free to test the free agent market next July if he chooses, Francis made an assertive bet that his assessment and the team’s scouting of lack was right. And he bet that Lack becomes worth more not less over the course of this season. If he had a lights out season and was suddenly one of those up and comer goalies, 2 things could happen. First, his price could go up to $4ish million per year. Second, he would likely have a few offers and a chance to go elsewhere if he wanted. Also, like the Elias Lindholm extension, it gives Ron Francis cost certainty and at least 1 goalie heading into next summer.
For Eddie Lack: This signing for this price and a 2-year term is a pretty strong indicator that at a minimum the team believes Lack will be a positive part of a 2-goalie tandem. It also represents a commitment in him.
For Cam Ward: I saw a few things on Twitter saying that this spells the end of Cam Ward after this season. I do not think that is the case. While it does put a ceiling on what the Canes could afford to pay Ward if both sides want to continue on together, that ceiling is high enough that it should work if both sides want to stay together. It does also give the Canes a signed option in net which could decrease Ward’s negotiating leverage.
After a few rough seasons and a rebound season that sees him only middle of the pack at best for NHL netminders, I would peg his ceiling salary at something like $4 million for a very short deal, possibly only 1 year. And that probably requires that he play lights out in 2015-16. More realistically, Ward is looking at something in the range of $2-3.5 million for a team wanting him for a 1A/1B scenario. And with Eddie Lack signed for $2.75 million, that is exactly how the Canes could set up. If Lack is phenomenal this season and wins the starting job outright while Ward struggles, it does get more complicated. In that scenario, Francis could opt to save money on the backup with Lack clearly in the #1 role and a cheaper options signed as a backup. But if Lack and Ward both have decent seasons and play a reasonably equal role in 2015-16, Ward could be offered a tiny bit more than Lack out of respect and kept for a 1A/1B tandem. The Canes would then have a 1A/1B goalie tandem that still saves about $2 million versus this year’s cost.
My opinion: While I think there is some risk extending Lack before seeing how at least part of the 2015-16 season plays out in net, I think it is a decent deal for Ron Francis. He gets cost certainty and guarantees that the team has at least 1 goalie before treading into the potentially dangerous free agent waters next summer. Or alternatively, I think it still leaves enough room to make a Cam Ward re-signing possible.