Eddie Lack Extension: Preparing for the Future or Sending a Message?

Yesterday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced a two-year contract extension for Swedish goaltender Eddie Lack, paying him $2.5 million in 2016-17 and $3.0 million in 2017-18. The deal itself is a steal if Lack can continue the trend that he’s shown in his career thus far. Playing two years with the Vancouver Canucks, Lack split time as a starter with Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller, posting admirable numbers in the process. However, one cannot overlook that this extension comes before Lack has played any meaningful games with the Hurricanes. He’s played well in the preseason, but the fact remains that it’s still just the preseason.

Head coach Bill Peters announced that Cam Ward would be in net for the Hurricanes’ first game of the season against the Nashville Predators, though whether that’s indicative of the plan for the rest of the season or simply the beginning of a 1a/1b situation is known only to Peters himself. Even if Lack remains the backup for this season or the remainder of this contract, $3 million isn’t an absurd number to pay for a backup goaltender of Lack’s caliber, especially given Carolina’s struggles to find a decent player to fill that role. However, there may be more to this extension than meets the eye.

Ward is an upcoming unrestricted free agent after this year, and there’s been talk all summer that general manager Ron Francis and Ward’s camp have been trying to work an extension for the long-time Canes goaltender. Actual details regarding what both sides are looking for has been very hush-hush, but there’s no doubt that the Canes would like a significant decrease from Ward’s current $6.3 million caphit. Ward has failed to live up to that contract, though some of that may be attributed to a reoccurring injury bug that plagued the goaltender the past few years. Nonetheless, if Ward’s camp refuses to budge from his current salary, or won’t take as big of a discount as the Canes would like, this Lack extension may be a message from the Canes that they’re prepared to move on without the former Conn Smythe winner.

However, the Hurricanes do have to be careful. There’s no doubt that Lack has been successful playing with the Canucks, but there’s no indication that he could find that same success with the Hurricanes. Past play is not indicative of future success, especially when it comes to goaltenders. Carolina doesn’t need to look far for that lesson, after bringing Anton Khudobin to the team for a similar reason as they did Lack, after Khudobin showed some success with the Boston Bruins. Khudobin had an excellent first year with the Hurricanes, and entered his second as the favored goaltender to be the starter for the team. However, he was unable to repeat that success and Ward once again took over to carry the load.

Whether it’s skill, fate or just pure dumb luck, the fact remains that for the past 10 years, Ward is the only goaltender to show any kind of sustained success for more than a year behind a consistently spotty Hurricanes’ defense. And Carolina has brought in A LOT of goaltenders in that time, trying to find a partner for their starter. Maybe Lack will be the goaltender they’ve been looking for. This extension certainly seems to indicate that. But given how difficult it has been to find a consistently successful goaltender over the years, the Hurricanes shouldn’t be too quick to push Ward out the door.