Hurricanes’ Net May Get New Guardian

The Carolina Hurricanes may be looking toward the future with an eye toward having a new guardian of the net, a new keeper of the crease. After a decade of relying on Cam Ward to be their goalie, a new face may be behind the mask. After two seasons of backup goalie Eddie Lack, they may decide to move on.

The Candid Comment

Hurricanes GM Ron Francis held the team’s end-of-season press conference with head coach Bill Peters on April 12. After thanking us in the media for all of the hard work we do, Francis fielded the first question which had to do with his biggest concern in the offseason. Francis, not one to mince words, candidly said, “I think if we look at the team, it’s not a secret. Our goals-against was 18th and our save percentage was tied for 27th in the league. So, that’s certainly an area we’ve got to look at real closely and fix for next season.”

Boom! Within 45 seconds of sitting down with the media, Francis pulled back his priority curtain and let the world know that he may have had enough of the ‘Canes’ goalie show. He did not come right out and say they are going to try to replace Ward and Lack, but in my opinion, he came pretty close.

Ward has been the mainstay of Hurricanes goalies since he broke into the league and helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 2006. He stood on his head repeatedly during their run, and from that point on has not been seriously challenged as the ‘Canes’ starting goalie. There have been a few backupsJustin Peters, Anton Khudobin and Lack to name a fewbut none have kicked Ward from in between the pipes.

Fans have loved Ward and they have hated him, much in the same way they loved and hated former Hurricane Eric Staal. They both still merit some love because of the Cup. But, it gets tougher with every passing season that the ‘Canes do not make the playoffs.

One of my colleagues followed up with Francis and asked if he felt a change was definite, or if  the team would the team be stuck in the same cycle it has been. That cycle, of course, being Ward and whoever as the backup.

Francis said, “No, I think we’re in a position where we have some options to look at doing some things. And certainly with the expansion draft, there may be goaltenders that teams are going to lose that they’re willing to trade, so we can look at that. I think (there are) free agent goaltenders that will hit the free agent market, we can look at that. And also we’ll dive deeper into our situation and try to figure out what’s going on there, as well.”

This Season

Eddie Lack Hurricanes backup goalie         (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Ward was the workhorse all season, in large part because Lack was injured. At one point during the season, Peters joked that Ward had been drinking from the fountain of youth. He has never backed down from the challenge of playing multiple games in a row, often over long stretches. Even at 33 years old, Ward still can look at times like an elite goalie. The problem is that also at times he can look pretty rough.

Lack has been a question mark to me from day one. Signed to an extension before he had stepped onto Hurricanes ice, I never saw play from Lack that caused me to be in awe. The two concussions he had this season were unfortunate, recovering from the first, and then getting hit in the head by a soccer ball and getting the second.

Lack has said that the challenge of not getting to play much has hurt his game. He has lamented not being able to get into a rhythm if only called on to play once in five games or so. He has a valid point. But, to me, he just does not possess the game that is necessary to be a starter and lead a team to the playoffs.

First Step

Francis took no time in making a move in the goalie arena, letting go of goalie coach David Marcoux. His contract was set to expire in June, and Francis let him know that his services would no longer be needed for the team.

Francis seems to be sending out clear signals that he wants something different in his goalie corps. He has the draft picks (11) to play with and possibly make a deal for another goalie. As he said, teams would rather trade prior to the expansion draft and get something for a player than lose him in the expansion draft and receive nothing in return.

Ward has one more year left on the two-year deal he signed last year. Lack also has another year left on his contract. Both goalies are to be paid in the $3 million range, a lot of money for a 27th-place-in-the-league save percentage. Francis seems determined to do something, but what it will remains to be seen. It will, however, be a very interesting offseason for the Hurricanes.