First, to be clear, this post is focused on the longer-term (so basically 2017-18 and beyond) for the Carolina Hurricanes at the goalie position. It is also important to note that by no means am I punting on the 2016-17 season. The Hurricanes recent trend is in the wrong direction, but their position in the clustered Eastern Conference gives them about as good of a chance as anyone to win the final playoff spot if they can find a higher gear. But this is a chance to write about something different and avoid wallowing in the current 5-game losing streak.
I you want to live in the Hurricanes goaltending present, my article on Cam Ward and the overall situation from January 13 is still relevant (and crystal ball-ish looking back when written before the 4-game losing streak).
If instead you prefer another dose of future, I also wrote about Francis’ challenge to plan for and possibly build a bridge to the next wave of youth on the blue line.
The current situation
But getting back to the matter at hand, an important starting point is understanding the Hurricanes’ current situation in net at the NHL level. Two summers ago, Ron Francis made a move to acquire Eddie Lack via trade from Vancouver and extended his contract for 2 years at $2.75 million per year (through the 2017-18 season since he had 1 year on his contract when he arrived). The logic was undoubtedly to lock Lack up for a reasonable price rather than risk having to re-sign him for a much higher price after 1 season or even losing him altogether to free agency. That move has not panned out thus far. Lack had a sub-par 2015-16 season primarily in a backup role (and could have been re-signed or replaced for much less than the $2.75 million that Francis committed). And after a summer off to reset, Lack struggled out of the gate again and has since been sidelined for most of 2 months with 2 concussions.
Right now, Lack is locked into 1 more year in the backup role and pretty much immovable via trade unless the Hurricanes eat salary and/or sweeten the deal.
Ward’s extended $6.8 million contract mercifully came off the books at the end of the 2015-16 season. After much wrangling among fans and media, Francis moved early (before free agency opened and even before the wheeling and dealing at the NHL draft weekend) to re-sign Ward to a deal pretty similar to Lack’s. Ward is under contract for 2 years (so also through 2017-18) for a modestly higher $3.3 million. Through half of the 2016-17 season that deal looked like a good move for a fair price and low risk/cost relative to pursuing other options. But the Hurricanes current downturn that are at least in part due to Ward’s struggles in January clearly show that it is too early to make a final declaration on Ward’s 2016-17 season in total in net.
Like Lack, he is signed through 2017-18 for $3.3 million per year.
Is it even possible financially to add another goalie?
Skeptical that Francis will pour much more money into the goalie position
While it is entirely possible for Francis to add another goalie or make a trade, I think budget-wise this will be challenging. Francis made a shrewd move this summer when he was able to add experienced NHL depth in the form of Michael Leighton but importantly on a 2-way contract that only pays him an NHL salary (and a modest 1 at that at $700,000) if he plays at the NHL level. (His original contract did not even have an NHL component if my memory is correct.)
But in terms of adding another higher-end goalie, I just do not see Francis pouring more money into the position especially if at least 1 of Ward and Lack is looking capable as the starter. Earlier this season, Jarsoslav Halak hit waivers and some thought he would be a good addition. As a player, I agree, but with a $5 million per year contract for this season and next, I just do not see it as feasible. Whatever limited budget Francis can muster for the summer of 2017, he will want to spend on skaters who play regularly, not a backup or third goalie.
Scenarios that I think could see a goalie addition
I see 4 scenarios in which Francis might add another goalie:
1) If Lack never gets going and Ward implodes down the stretch, the goalie position could become a big enough problem that Francis completely reprioritizes his budget. In this scenario, the options become all available.
2) If Francis can somehow offload the last year of Lack’s contract without it costing too much in terms of trade value, he would then have a slot and also some budget. If Francis could move Lack to Las Vegas without paying a fortune, he could then re-enter the free agent market.
3) If he can make a bigger trade that sees a goalie leave and a goalie arrive, it becomes possible.
4) If he can add a third goalie with an inexpensive contract (i.e. $1.5 million or less) such that the money borrowed from other things is manageable.
The Las Vegas expansion could open some interesting options both for obtaining a goalie that they select and possibly as a destination for someone like Lack if Las Vegas takes some bad contracts in return for futures to build for 2-3 years down the road.
But barring anything that sees a goalie and a goalie contract leave, I think the probability of Francis adding an upgrade at goalie for the 2017-18 season is a challenging proposition for Francis.
One for the road
Perhaps in another post when I have more time, I will pull together a more thorough list of possibilities, but just for fun let me throw out 1 name who is interesting and also highlights a viable scenario financially.
The name is Andrew Hammond from Ottawa. Yes, the Hamburglar. The luster has long worn off from his crazy 20-1-2 record with a 1.79 goals against average and .941 save percentage as a rookie in 2014-15. With Mike Condon seizing the reins this season Craig Anderson still in tow, Hammond is the odd man out. He has not played well in limited action this season, but his 2015-16 season was respectable with a .914 save percentage and a 2.61 goals against average. Significant also is his contract situation. He is signed through the 2017-18 season for $1.35 million. That is a number that could be wedged into the 2017-18 budget without spending all of the money needed for other things.
The burning question is whether Francis and his scouting staff think that Hammond could regain something even remotely close to his level of play a couple years ago. But at a more basic level, this is the kind of deal that Francis might consider putting another $1-2 million into the goalie position short-term if he thinks there is an upgrade that can be made in that price range.
Part 2 in the next few days will look at the Hurricanes future at the goalie position beyond the 2017-18 season.
If you haven’t yet, please stop by the Coffee Shop today to vent, commiserate, debate, vote and have a quick cup of Joe.