It is no secret that goaltending has been an issue for the Hurricanes for many years now. The team has tried the same and hoped for better with a long run for Cam Ward and also a the 2016-17 season when the team decided to bring back both Cam Ward and Eddie Lack despite goaltending issues in the previous season. No doubt, sub-par defense has also played a role and possibly coaching. Once you throw all of the potential factors into the mix, it is difficult to determine what exactly it takes for the Hurricanes to finally have a season with at least league average goaltending.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers the significance of multiple factors in terms of righting the ship in the net.
1) Obtaining better goalies
The starting point for the goalie position is how good the netminders on the roster are. Obviously, having a stalwart netminder like Henrik Lundqvist goes a long way toward receiving at least decent goalie play. But recent history with even good goalies like Carey Price, Pekkar Rinne and others having extended down stretches seem to suggest that it is not as simple as having a good goalie. They are just a fickle breed such that even good ones seem to have their ups and downs. And at the same time, each year teams without big name netminders do just fine suggesting that it is possible to get by at least in some years with lesser talents in net.
Nevertheless, I would argue that on average the Hurricanes have started from a modest deficit in terms of simply having a higher-end goalie. Cam Ward seemed to play at a ceiling of ‘serviceable’ in recent years with his share of stretches at less than that. And the run of trying to convert a good backup to a good starter was mostly 0 for 3 with none of Anton Khudobin, Eddie Lack or Scott Darling working out.
2) Getting top end play out of the netminders on the roster
As noted in the first section, it is not inconceivable to get league average or better goaltending from run of the mill players. In fact, it seems to happen every year that multiple lesser name goalies seize starting jobs and play well. In fact, Lack and Darling were exactly this before joining the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have missed badly in this regard. The level of play of both Lack and Darling fell off a cliff after joining the Hurricanes. Neither came remotely close to what they had done just prior to joining the Hurricanes. In addition, possibly because of age, Cam Ward has been unable to reach anywhere close to what seemed to be his ceiling 7-8 years ago. The result is that Hurricanes netminders have underperformed what would have been a reasonable expectation for them over the past many years.
3) Receiving strong defensive play to help
While the goalie might be the last line of defense in terms of keeping the puck out of the net, the defense in front of the goalie also plays a huge role. I beat the drum last summer that many were putting the cart before the horse in loosely interchanging the potential to have a great young blue line with the reality. Entering last season, Noah Hanifin had yet to emerge, Justin Faulk seemed to be in decline and Haydn Fleury was stepping into the lineup as a rookie. Just as it has in other recent years, the ‘learning on the job’ aspect of the Hurricanes defense played a role in the goalies’ struggles. The burning questions right now are threefold. First, how much of the team’s struggles in net in recent years can fairly be attributed to unsound defensive play? Second, with a revamping of the blue line in adding Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, is it possible that what has been a negative in recent years will instantly flip to being a significant positive? Third, if that transition does occur, how big of a difference will it make?
4) Correct coaching and handling of the goalies
There are multiple layers to this one. From a tactical standpoint, using goalies correctly can make a huge difference. By my math, Ward had a reasonably strong 2016-17 campaign until we collapsed under the weight of a massive run of games with no rest in the middle of the season. From a psychological standpoint, I think one could make the case that Bill Peters was not great at figuring out how to get the most out of his goalies. Many argue that Eddie Lack was never really given a chance to play out any kinks and adjust to his new team and work up to starting caliber. In a bizarre fit of irony, the only time Peters seemed to prompt a higher level of play out of lack was as a result of an awkward exchange that saw Peters chuck Lack under the bus in an interview and then seemingly regret doing so. Finally, there is the role of the goalie coach. The Hurricanes have been through two in the past few years with similar sub-par results. Across the range of direct coaching of the goalies, tactical usage of the goalie tandem and somehow getting goalies into the right mindset to be successful, the Hurricanes have failed across the board in recent years. Could Rod Brind’Amour be a better motivator who can get more out of his goalies? One can hope.
5) The curse
As the Hurricanes get deeper and deeper into the run of trying a random variety of things in net, a slow groundswell of belief has been building that at least considers the possibility that the problem is not solvable without addressing the goalie curse head on. If you missed it, you can catch up on this conspiracy theory explanation HERE. I highly doubt that we will see Scott Darling or Petr Mrazek practicing in old school Jofa bucket style helmets anytime soon, but could it really hurt anything at this point? Just sayin’ ….
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you had to attribute the Hurricanes goalie struggles to these five factors, how would you distribute 100 percent of causation?
2) Are there any other causes for the Hurricanes goalie struggles that you would add to the list?
3) Who things the Jofa helmet thing is at least worth a try? If not, what does it take for you to go full superstition, curses and voodoo mode for fixing the team’s netminding?