Many eyebrows were raised over the summer when the Carolina Hurricanes opted to move forward without their 2020-21 trio of goaltenders in Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer.
The hockey world was shocked on July 22, when the Hurricanes dealt Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a third-round pick and the rights to Jonathan Bernier, who needed a new contract. Both the team’s fanbase and media had lauded the young Calder Trophy finalist as the potential franchise goaltender of the future. When the team was then unable to come to terms with Mrazek on a contract extension and had moved on from their steady, consistent presence in Reimer, panic began to ensue.
Fast forward to when free agency opened up on July 28, and the Hurricanes had zero goaltenders on their NHL roster. Despite their efforts to ink Bernier, the negotiations stalled and he wound up signing a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils. That led to the team dipping into free agency and unearthing both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta and starting a new era in goaltending for the squad.
Andersen’s Early Returns
Throughout the offseason, there was an abundance of skepticism throughout the Hurricanes’ fanbase around whether or not the team’s moves would pay off. Andersen was coming off a two-year stretch with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where his play had dipped significantly, and Raanta had a long history of injury concerns. While the potential of the tandem was never the question, it was well-known that we’d have to wait for answers.
Fast forward to today, and the early returns could not have gone much better for the team. Andersen currently leads the NHL in wins (9), goals-against average (1.77 GAA), and currently sits fourth with a .938 save percentage (SV%). He has a 9-2 record as the team’s starter and has been a major component in their early-season success. He was even awarded Third Star of The Month honors for his efforts.
It’s a breath of fresh air to have such a calm demeanor in the crease, in contrast to the styles that the likes of Mrazek and Nedeljkovic played with. Andersen is noticeably much larger in the crease, and his side-to-side movement is really impressive for a guy as large as he is (6-foot-4, 238 pounds). There’s very little to aim at when he challenges shooters, and his rebound control has mostly been stellar. He also has that highly-coveted desperation save ability. Overall, he has the entire package and looks the part.
Andersen Alleviating Durability Concerns
One of the biggest concerns that the Canes’ fanbase — myself included — was Andersen’s history with the Leafs. His statistical performance had been on a steady decline over the past two seasons. He was eventually outplayed and replaced as the starter by the impressive Jack Campbell. His struggles may have been caused by a lingering lower-body injury that he admitted to playing through. He also had much weaker defensive support in Toronto than in Carolina. Still, he definitely had the look of a player that was trending the wrong way.
Another big concern was the workload that he’d endured during his time with the Leafs. For four straight seasons between 2016 and 2019, he was top five in the NHL for most starts by a goaltender — which led many to wonder if he’s been run into the ground. That hasn’t been an issue at all for the Hurricanes so far; Andersen has started 11 of the team’s 13 games and has allowed just 19 goals in the process.
Considering his history, you’d like to see the team manage his workload a little better, but it’s extremely hard to turn away from a goaltender who’s been so effective. Raanta has talent and a history of success but has made just one start so far and is recovering from an injury sustained in a relief appearance. Ideally, the Hurricanes will shift into more of a timeshare to keep both players fresh and in peak game shape, but it’s easy to see why they’ve chosen to ride Andersen early on in the season.
Is His Play Sustainable, Long-Term?
The golden question is if Andersen can sustain this level of play throughout the season — and most importantly — stay healthy. It’s easy to get carried away on a small sample size. Still, based on all the factors involved (great coaching, deep roster, top-end talent), I believe that if Freddie — at anything near the level of goaltending he’s currently providing — makes the Hurricanes a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Thus far, he’s been everything the doctor ordered for the team and more — and it’s becoming much clearer why the Hurricanes chose to move in this direction. Stylistically, he’s is a much calmer, safer, and poised goaltender in net than both Mrazek and Nedeljkovic — who were both a proverbial roller-coaster ride in the crease. And while they both had good results playing that way, Andersen just provides such a stabilizing presence back there, which can go a long way in relaxing the entire team.
Moving forward, there’s a legitimate reason to believe that he can maintain this level of play. He arguably has the best team defense that he’s ever had in front of him right now. Heck, you can even make the case that this is the best team he’s ever had in front of him, period. Plus, he’s already been in the Vezina conversation multiple times throughout his career, so it’s not like you can just dismiss this great run of form as a fluke. He’s the closest thing the Hurricanes have had to a truly reliable #1 goaltender since Cam Ward.
Currently, on top of the Metropolitan Division with two games in hand, the Hurricanes have a favorable schedule to wrap up the month of November. They’re currently out west on a five-game road trip, starting in Las Vegas, trekking through California, and ultimately wrapping up in Seattle. They’ll play eight games across the next 14 games to close out the month, but none of them will be in a back-to-back situation. That should give head coach Rod Brind’Amour ample opportunity to balance out the starts between Andersen and Raanta and hopefully get key pieces like Nino Niederreiter and Brett Pesce back into the lineup.
Carolina Hurricanes writer. 23 years old. Ottawa, Canada. Prospect geek, hockey nerd.