Wounds are still fresh after the Carolina Hurricanes were thumped by the Boston Bruins in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and although their quest for the Cup is over, general manager (GM) Don Waddell hasn’t stopped to rest.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, the Hurricanes may be looking for an immediate upgrade in goal — specifically in Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Frederik Andersen.
The Hurricanes’ 1A-1B tandem of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer held it together this season, but didn’t exactly sparkle and shine either. Splitting the workload throughout the season and playoffs, neither Mrazek nor Reimer was able to play consistently strong enough to give the ‘Canes much confidence in net.
The Hurricanes have been searching for reliable goaltending ever since the glory days of Cam Ward, and with an upcoming free agency period blooming with between-the-pipes talent, Waddell and the Hurricanes may take an aggressive approach to improving an area of perpetual weakness.
Can Andersen Be the Right Fit?
Long-time Hurricanes fans may be cringing at the thought of trading for Andersen. He was, after all, a seventh-round draft pick of the Hurricanes in 2010, who refused to sign with the team, and eventually chose to be re-entered into the 2012 draft, only to be swiped by the Anaheim Ducks. Yeah, that guy.
Unfortunately, this kind of player disinterest is somewhat familiar to the Hurricanes organization — a similar situation happened just last year with defenseman Adam Fox, who refused to sign an entry-level contract with the team and was subsequently dealt to the New York Rangers.
You can definitely argue part of Fox’s decision was the sheer volume of defensive depth Carolina boasted, and the same can be said for Andersen and the Hurricanes’ pool of goaltenders back in 2010. Players want to be in a position where they get a fair chance to play.
But in saying that, you also can’t ignore the possibility that Andersen may have had no interest in playing for the Hurricanes at all. A lot can change in 10 years, but it’s important to note that he has a modified no-trade clause in his current contract, which allows him to nix a potential trade to 10 teams of his choice.
The Hurricanes’ one-two punch of Mrazek and Reimer each come with a cap hit just north of $3 million for one more season. Similarly, the 30-year-old Andersen also has just one year left on his contract, at a $5 million cap hit.
The difference is, Andersen is a legitimate top-15 goaltender in the league and would provide the Hurricanes with the stability they seek.
In 244 games spanning four seasons with the Maple Leafs, Andersen sports a 136-66-33 record, with a .916 save percentage (SV%) and 2.77 goals against average (GAA). And that was behind the pitiful defense of the Maple Leafs. Imagine what he could do with the support of the Hurricanes’ blue line.
In order for this trade to work financially, the Hurricanes would have to shed the contract of either Mrazek or Reimer, and knowing the salary-tight Maple Leafs are also seeking an upgrade in goal, an overpriced backup goalie is simply not a sensible fit for them.
Acquiring Andersen Would Be Complicated
If the Hurricanes are serious about acquiring Andersen’s services, the obvious needs of the Maple Leafs should be understood — Toronto is seeking a right-handed, top-four defenseman.
Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton would be the two guys who fit the bill — specifically Pesce — but it’s hard to imagine there’s any chance Waddell would be willing to part with either defenseman considering how vital they are to the team’s success.
Along with Jaccob Slavin, Pesce is Carolina’s strongest defensive asset. He’s also locked up for the next four seasons at a palatable cap hit of $4.025 million. Hamilton on the other hand, has one more season at a cap hit of $5.75 million. But Waddell has already indicated that extending Hamilton (and Andrei Svechnikov) are some of his top priorities this fall, making a trade involving them even more unlikely.
So what can the Hurricanes dangle in front of the Maple Leafs? Well, not much. After GM Dubas wrangled in a 15th-overall pick and a solid prospect for Kasperi Kapanen, it’s clear he sets a sky-high value for his players.
The Hurricanes have picks, and they have a deep prospect pool, but the Maple Leafs are in win-now mode. Carolina would have to offer up valuable roster pieces for Andersen, a soon-to-be 31-year-old goaltender who they would likely only get one year out of anyway. The trade just doesn’t make much sense for either side.
Looking Elsewhere Incurs a Much Lower Risk
The 2020 offseason could see a musical chairs free-for-all when it comes to goaltenders, and the Hurricanes will undoubtedly be participants in the mayhem. The only problem is, they’ll have competition.
While there are a slew of unrestricted free agent (UFA) goalies set to hit the market, there are also several teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers looking to trim their goaltending stables via trade. It’s a rarity to have so many goalies on the block around the NHL, but the Hurricanes now have options, and their crosshairs will be focused on only the top available guys.
3 Stud Goalies Potentially Heading to Free Agency
Two big names the ‘Canes will be looking at are the Vancouver Canucks’ Jacob Markstrom and Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights. Both goalies are currently battling it out in their Western Conference Semifinal series, but are set to become UFAs this offseason.
Both have also enjoyed outstanding years. Markstrom, 30, was arguably the MVP of the Canucks this season, posting a .918 SV% and 2.75 GAA to go along with a 23-16-4 record. While contract negotiations have been set aside until the end of the playoffs, the Canucks have shown interest in re-signing him, and they have plenty of cap space to do so.
Lehner, 29, split the season between the Chicago Blackhawks and Golden Knights, recording a combined .920 SV% and 2.89 GAA. He’s also been piloting the Golden Knights through the majority of the postseason.
Lehner’s stellar play, and the recent drama surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury and his agent, could mean Vegas chooses to re-sign Lehner as their starter next season, which would take one of the Hurricanes’ best options off the table.
Another UFA the Hurricanes may show interest in is Stanley Cup-winner Braden Holtby. The 30-year-old Washington Capital is coming off the statistically worst season of his career, however. With Ilya Samsonov ready to take over the No. 1 job in Washington, it’s likely Holtby tests free agency.
It’s anyone’s guess what kind of contract he’ll command on the open market, but his poor 2019-20 season could deter potential suitors and provide the Hurricanes an opportunity to swoop in and befriend a former rival.
Coyotes and Penguins Are Open For Business
The fallout of the Arizona Coyotes combine testing debacle is essentially strong-arming the Coyotes into entering rebuild mode. They’ll be looking to collect as many draft picks as possible and they have valuable players to bargain with — most notably, goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Kuemper is also 30 years old, but he, too, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career — a .928 SV%, 2.22 GAA campaign in which he carried the Coyotes through several droughts of mediocrity. He also comes with two more years on his contract at a comfortable cap hit of $4.5 million.
Another potential dance partner is the Penguins. GM Jim Rutherford has even outright stated that there’s a high probability one of his goalies — Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry — would be moved before the start of next season.
That’s an area the Hurricanes should explore, as both Murray (26) and Jarry (25) are significantly younger than most of the other available goalies.
Elsewhere, the New York Rangers’ trio of Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev will need to be thinned to two before the start of next season. Shesterkin is seen as the goalie of the future there, but if the 24-year-old Georgiev is available, he might be a sneaky good pick up for the Hurricanes.
What the Hurricanes Have Just Isn’t Enough
This season was proof that the Hurricanes need a goaltender who can steal games when the rest of the team is having an off night. And if they head into next season without any changes in net, I don’t see the Mrazek-Reimer tandem taking them any farther than they did this year.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes still don’t know what they have in Alex Nedeljkovic. The 24-year-old former second-round pick is now in his sixth season within the Hurricanes organization and has only touched the ice for six NHL games.
Should the Hurricanes not have Mrazek or Reimer on the books when the 2021-22 season arrives, Nedeljkovic could finally get an opportunity to see backup time. However, that’s only going to happen behind a solidified No. 1 goalie, which the Hurricanes must find between then and now.
Carolina holds the 13th-overall pick in this year’s notoriously stacked draft. It’s an envious position to be in as a team already on the cusp of true contender status. In the likely event they hold on to the pick, they should be eyeing top draft-eligible goalie Yaroslav Askarov.
Drafting Askarov won’t do anything to fix the now, but it takes more than just a couple years to build a championship team. The Hurricanes’ Cup window is only just opening, and drafting a stud goalie like Askarov could potentially provide enormous stability to an already dangerous up-and-coming team.
With two big pay days approaching with Hamilton and Svechnikov, the ‘Canes need to tread carefully in how they allocate their spending in the goaltender department.
With so much competition scouring the field of available goaltenders this offseason, the Hurricanes may not have to break the bank to get their guy, but it still remains their No. 1 priority.
Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.