Andrej Nestrasil on waivers
Today the Carolina Hurricanes announced that they had placed Andrej Nestrasil on waivers. Other NHL teams will have until midday tomorrow to claim him; otherwise he is likely destined for ice time in Charlotte.
At the most basic level, the Hurricanes needed to move someone off of the NHL roster to make room for Elias Lindholm to come off of injured reserve. The only potential option to be sent back to Charlotte without having to clear waivers is Brock McGinn who is pretty entrenched in the lineup for the time being. (Technically, any of Noah Hanifin, Sebastian Aho or Elias Lindholm could be sent to the AHL without clearing waivers, but none of them are going anywhere obviously.) The other options not in the lineup, defensemen Ryan Murphy and Klas Dahlbeck would also need to clear waivers.
Out of all of those choices, I think the greatest upshot of Nestrasil hitting waivers is that newly-acquired Ty Rattie has, at least for now, passed him on the Hurricanes depth chart.
Nestrasil is a decent depth player but is not having a great 2016-17 campaign. I put the chances at about 25 percent that he is claimed.
Coming off a major back injury last February and never really finding his game in 2016-17, I really hope that he clears waivers and gets a fresh start with a bunch of ice time in Charlotte. THe Checkers could use the help, and I think Nestrasil best path to getting his game back on track is to play a bunch.
Goalie Curtis McElhinney from Columbus available on waivers
Today’s waiver wire also produced a potential backup goalie option. The Columbus Blue Jackets placed veteran NHL backup goalie Curtis McElhinney on waivers.
As I said on Twitter, I think he is at least worth consideration and a phone call with the scouting staff for Ron Francis.
McElhinney is a little bit like Michael Leighton. He is a veteran 33-year old with extensive AHL experience and also a track record at the NHL level primarily as a backup. McElhinney is being released after his role is a 3-goal collapse and loss to the Rangers on Sunday, but his numbers though limited for 2016-17 look decent. Even with the recent bad outing, he is 2-1-2 with a 2.39 goals against average and a .924 save percentage that beats any Canes’ goalie and would be above average league-wide if he had enough games. Career-wise, he has 154 games of NHL experience over 9 seasons in a backup role in the NHL.
Unlike Jaroslav Halak who would have required a massive $7.2 million commitment over 1 1/2 seasons, McElhinney comes as close to free $-wise as possible. His $800,000 contract is up at the end of 2016-17. If you do math that has him replacing Michael Leighton as the backup, his extra cost would be $50,000 (so basically nothing) for the rest of the season. If Lack comes back making McElhinney an extra goalie who still has to be paid, then the right way to think of it is that he is a $400,000 cost for half of a season. Regardless, the cost is modest.
The need for a backup to Cam Ward
Since the beginning of December, the plan in net has been to just ride Cam Ward game in and game out without a rest. Ward has started 16 straight games dating back to a December 3 start by Michael Leighton. While there are 3 back-to-back sets upcoming, it might actually be viable to ride Ward through the end of February. The rest of January is the tough part with 3 back-to-back sets and a reasonably busy schedule. Then the schedule eases. With the league-mandated layoff and a light schedule, the first half of February would be easy for Ward. The second half of Febuary is also doable with the rest in the first half of the month and then nice spacing for the latter half of the month. But then the Hurricanes embark on a physical gauntlet of 18 games in 31 days with no more than 1 day off throughout and a helping of back-to-back sets mixed in to boot. Trying to ride through this with 1 goalie seems impossible if not foolish. But theoretically, Francis might be able to get to the trade deadline before either using someone he has or making a trade.
The decision for Francis and his team
The big question for Francis and his staff is whether they think McElhinney is a significant upgrade to Leighton and/or Lack, neither of who Peters has really decided to trust. To this day, I think Francis and Peters missed the boat with the Michael Leighton situation. At the same time that both Cam Ward and Eddie Lack were struggling Leighton was red hot in Charlotte. I would have taken a shot at riding momentum and manufacturing a viable backup goalie option in the process. Leighton did obviously see action but only very limited and much later. He is 1 for 2 in terms of providing quality starts. He was stellar in his 2016-17 debut and more or less stole a win. In his second start on December 3 against the Rangers, he was not very good. He has not started since then though he did pick up the win in relief in the wild comeback 8-6 win over the Canucks. (He was not great in that game allowing 3 goals in about half of a game.)
I have not seen McElhinney play this season and the video is limited anyway, so it is a wild guess for me to say whether he is significantly better than Leighton or not. But Francis’ scouting team should be able to make that call. If they think, McElhinney is a significant upgrade to Leighton, then I think the cost/risk is so small that you claim him and give him a look and go from there. My hunch is that he will not grade out as significantly different and that the Hurricanes will pass. But I think he is worth the phone call with the scouting team, and I put the chance at 25 percent that the Hurricanes put in a claim for him.