Following up with our end of year "Back For More" feature, we will now look at the goalie position. We have already reviewed the defense, and within the next couple of days we will review the much more unpredictable and volatile forward situation.
The deal with the goalies is pretty much cut and dry, in my opinion. Obviously, Cam Ward will be back. John Grahame will be looking for employment elsewhere. Let's take a closer look.
- Cam Ward...... Cam will remain the franchise goalie for at least another year or two. He is under contract next year for 2.5 million, then his salary jumps up to 3.5 million for the 2009-2010 season. Ward started out last season red hot and guided the Canes to a quick Division lead. But he faltered during the middle of the season before picking up steam again after the All Star break. His most disappointing game for fans was the last one of the season when he allowed 4 goals on just 17 shots in a must win game. While he did finish 5th in the league with 36 wins, the rest of Cam's stats were not the best as he posted a GAA of 2.75 which placed him at 32nd in the league. His save percentage was .904, also 32nd in the league. Obviously, those stats must improve if the Canes are going to make the playoffs next year. Chances of Cam returning are at 100%.
- John Grahame..... While Grahame was reportedly a good team-mate and fun to have in the dressingroom, he was pretty much a disaster between the pipes. His GAA for the season was 3.75 and his save percentage was .875, unfortunately ranked near the bottom of the NHL and not much different from his previous season. Coach Peter Laviolette and John have some history and won the Calder together, and it's believed that Lavi had something to do with Grahame coming to Raleigh. Laviolette also seemed to favor Grahame over Michael Leighton, who arguably had a better training camp and played better than Grahame did, during his short stay with the big club during the season. Could the use and performance of these goalies be one of the points of contention between the Canes General Manager and Coach? Regardless, "Grahame Crackers" won't be back in Carolina next year and will probably have a tough time finding another gig in the NHL. Chances of him returning, 0%.
While reviewing the goalies' performances and statistics from last season, it must also be pointed out that they were hung out to dry quite often, probably more so than most other teams in the NHL. I saw a chart somewhere that indicated that the Canes allowed more uncontested shots from the slot area than any other team, and from what I have seen around the league I believe that chart.
While Coach Laviolette's system attempts to generate the most offense in the league, (as well as also drawing the most penalties), it does seem to be vulnerable to multiple defensive breakdowns. Are the players to blame or is the system? No matter who gets the blame, in order for the goalies to perform better the team defense needs to improve as well.
One big question of this summer will be, who will be Cam's backup, or partner in net for next year?
On top on the list would have to be Michael Leighton, who was named the AHL's goaltender of the year this past season
and might even end up being league MVP. But one problem re-signing him could be that Leighton had such a good year that other teams might be interested in him as well. He will be an unrestricted free agent who can negotiate and sign with anyone. The Canes won't have much money to throw around for this position, so they will probably not enter into a bidding war for the goalie's services, if it comes to that.
If Leighton doesn't sign with Carolina, they will look for some cheap alternative. There will be plenty of choices available, and we will look at that more in detail at a later time.
For instance, I saw one rumor that someone probably made up which had Ottawa buying out Ray Emery's contract and then him coming here for a minuscule amount. I just don't see that happening. Talk about a possible locker-room cancer. Emery can't figure out why some people are blaming him for Ottawa's downfall this past season because according to him, all he did was show up late for a couple of practices.
Something tells me that it's not just the fact that he was late for practice, it's his whole overall attitude that stinks. Ottawa can't wait to get rid of this guy and I admit that it will be interesting to see where he ends up.
Next up, who stays and who goes out of the forwards......