As the early season has slipped into November, the ‘Canes have continued to struggle. Last Saturday night, the Hurricanes were handed another set back when Cam Ward suffered a serious injury. During a first period scrum, Rick Nash’s skate sliced Ward’s upper leg, which landed the all-star goalie in the hospital and sent General Manager Jim Rutherford to the waiver wires. The ‘Canes went on to lose 3-2 to the Blue Jackets, but the club stands to lose much more with the loss of its star goaltender. Ward is expected to be out 3 to 4 weeks. But neither the ‘Canes nor Rutherford have 3 to 4 weeks to save the season. So, with the team on the ropes and their best player in the infirmary, Rutherford has signed veteran goalie Manny Legace to help stop the ‘Canes month long losing streak.
Ward will be difficult to replace. Ward had been slated to start between 65 and 70 games this season, with backup Michael Leighton picking up the rest of the goalkeeper duties. Leighton is a career backup, and he was never intended to backstop this team over the long term. Leighton was drafted by Chicago in the 6th round (165th overall) in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and has played in the league for parts of 6 seasons. Although Leighton has seen action in 72 NHL games, he has only played in 25 contests over the last three years in Carolina. Most of his big league experience came when he played 34 games for Chicago in 2003-04, going 6-18-8 for a bad Blackhawk team. As highlighted in Tropical Storm Warning: Five Prospects For Hurricanes Fans To Watch This Season, the ‘Canes minor league options include Justin Peters and rookie Mike Murphy. In Albany, Peters has posted a 5-4-1 record over 10 games, while Murphy has gone 2-2-0 over 4 games. Although both are considered solid prospects to someday back up Ward, neither is ready to handle full time major league goaltending duties.
With a lot of hockey left this season and with no real concrete timetable for Ward’s return, Rutherford quickly surveyed his goalie options and probably considered making a quick trade. Instead, Rutherford picked up Legace, an 8th round (188th overall) 1993 draft pick of the Hartford Whalers. Like Tim Thomas, most of Legace’s success has come later in his career. Legace never made it to the NHL as a Whaler or a Hurricane, spending his early career in the Hartford farm system. He was traded to Los Angeles in 1998 for a conditional pick in the 1999 draft. After a year in southern California, Legace found most of his success in Detroit, playing 180 games over 6 seasons with the Red Wings. While Legace is probably most recognized for his play in Detroit, he spent the last 3 years in St. Louis, playing 140 games and making an All-Star appearance in 1998. With his skills starting to decline and the financial challenges of the salary cap, Legace couldn’t find a roster spot this summer and started this season with the AHL Chicago Wolves.
Surprisingly, many have criticized the decision to add Legace to the club. Legace’s detractors often cite his long minor league career and his early playoff exit with Detroit in the 2005-06 season. But Legace was an All-Star in 2008, and he did win a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2001-02. Over his career, he has posted an NHL record of 177-92-36 with a 2.38 GAA. It’s hard to believe that Rutherford could pick up a better veteran goalie, with something to prove, for next to nothing. At this point, Legace is a great option for the ‘Canes, and Rutherford made a nice move picking him up on a one year, two-way contract. Rutherford didn’t have to move a prospect to bring him onboard. If he plays well early, look for the team to rally around Legace’s veteran presence. If Legace falters, look for Rutherford to make another move.
To some degree, Legace has come full circle. Almost a decade ago, Los Angeles gave Legace his first chance in the big leagues. Tonight, Rutherford will give him another shot at the NHL when Carolina hosts the Kings at the RBC Center. And after 16 years, Legace will finally start an NHL game for the franchise that drafted him, a franchise that needs him more now than ever.
Dan Canavan is an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut. Dan regularly covers business and legal issues facing the hockey industry for ctsportslaw.com. He has appeared as an on-air guest with regard to the NHL and the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy proceedings on CBC Radio’s World Report. His analysis and commentary have also been published in various media outlets including The National Post, The Windsor Star, The Star Phoenix, The Montreal Gazette, The Edmonton Journal, The Ottawa Citizen, The Vancouver Sun, The Province, Faceoff.com, and the Sports Litigation Alert. You can follow Dan on Twitter at twitter.com/DanielRCanavan. Dan can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.