With August trudging forward ever so slowly and daily checks for Canes news yielding nothing, it raises the question of what unfinished business is left for the Canes before we finally arrive at training camp.
There are a few open items. First, though he seems content to enter training camp leaving spots open for rookies to win at forward, I suspect that GM Ron Francis will ultimately sign one more cheap forward to add some depth. That would still leave room for at least one spot to be won at camp. The other bigger items that are open with the potential to be resolved in August are the long-term situations with Eric Staal and Cam Ward. As most know, both are scheduled to become free agents next summer. While I think it reasonably probable that Eric Staal’s situation will be resolved sometime this summer, I think it unlikely that will be the case for Cam Ward.
The challenge is that it is unclear what role he is being signed for which makes for a huge range of potential prices. He exited 2014-15 as the Canes starter. His agent could make a pitch for a salary appropriate for that role. Even if he took a big pay cut to adjust for his ranking in the goalie hierarchy these days, that would seem to dictate a price of something like $3-4M. That would be a big discount to his 2015-16 salary of $6.8M but probably fair given his recent performance. The advanced stats junkies would tell you that price is a significant overpayment based on his numbers (and also just his replacement value). So if he was a sure thing to be the starter in 2016-17, there is some negotiating to do but the price range is fairly well defined and reasonably narrow.
Enter Eddie Lack. Lack is a 27-year-old up and comer who stole a starting job for much of last year from another veteran Ryan Miller. He played well down the stretch and helped Vancouver reach the playoffs. This is obviously why the Canes were interested in him. He should be capable of pushing Ward. But will it just be pushing? Or is it possible, very possible even, that he ultimately becomes the starting goalie. Lack is an unrestricted free agent next summer, just like Ward. So if he has a stellar or even just good 2015-16 season on top of a pretty good 2014-15, he is suddenly at least a good 1B option on the open market. With a good season, his price is easily $2.5M and quite possibly he climbs into that same $3-4M range.
As a team that works to a budget, I would be surprised to see Francis commit $3-4M early to a player who has at least a reasonable probability to play his way into a backup role. With the Canes working to a budget, I am not sure that Francis would really even want a 1A/1B scenario that saw two goalies paid decent salaries. It is possible that he might be happy to have a true #1 who earns $3-4M and then scour the summer leftover bin next summer to add a veteran backup on the cheap.
So as relates to re-signing Cam Ward, I just do not see Francis committing starter money to Cam Ward before he sees what 2015-16 brings for the position in Raleigh. If Ward was to take a huge discount down a $2-2.5M price range that hypothetically works for a 1A or a 1B, then it becomes more possible. But that price is still high if he becomes the backup and is probably much more of a discount than he would accept. He would be better off taking his chances this season. It is not like his price could fall much from there.
While I think there is a decent probability that Eric Staal’s long-term future in a Canes uniform will be decided before training camp, I think that is much less likely for Ward. To be clear, it is not that Ward cannot be re-signed. It is just that there are too many unknowns and too much risk for Francis to do it before he gets a better read on Lack and the goalie situation this season. And he really does not buy himself much by rushing into it. I think Francis rides his goalie situation at least a couple months into the season to see what shakes out before making any kind of commitment to Cam Ward.