The Carolina Hurricanes already have one goalie signed for next season. Eddie Lack was given a two-year extension before he played a single game for Carolina. The goalie has had some ups and downs during the season but unless he is traded, he will return.
The Canes still need another goalie and they have plenty of options to choose from. First on some fans' wish list is Cam Ward.
Ward, who is coming off a six year $36 million contract, has also had his ups and downs. While he still shows the ability to make the athletic, breath-taking saves, he also has his weaknesses. His save percentages over the past few seasons have not placed him within the top of the league.
There has been little said about any contract negotiations between the goalie's camp and Ron Francis, which would indicate that the general manager is going to wait and shop come the offseason.
Should he bring Ward back, or should he look elsewhere?
First of all if we look at Carolina's cupboard of goalie prospects, there does not seem to be anyone NHL ready. Daniel Altshuller, who was picked in the third round in the 2012 entry draft, has also had ups and downs this season.
He was outstanding for the Florida Everblades, compiling a .934 save percentage in 15 games. He started out red hot for the Checkers but has cooled down of late. At this time he has a 10-6-2-1 record with a .915 save percentage.
If the Canes had more confidence in Lack being a number one goalie, they might get by with Altshuller as a backup, but in my opinion they need to look at someone with NHL experience, who could take number one duties if Lack stumbles.
That also leaves out Alex Nedeljkovic, the prospect who had an outstanding world junior tournament. While he starred for Team USA and sported a .943 save percentage and a 1.66 GAA in the tournament, he will need more seasoning before being thrown to the wolves in the NHL.
So if the team does not re-sign Ward, what are the options?
There are several UFA's hitting the market, but some I would leave alone. Former Canes, Justin Peters, and Anton Khudobin will be looking for new teams, but I feel Ward is a better option, if Carolina's goalie will accept a short term contract. (I would not sign the 31-year-old to more than two years, and preferably one.)
There are some old-timers the club should stay away from like Niklas Backstrom and Jonas Hiller. Both of these UFA goalies have been fighting injuries and have had issues. (I left them off the list below).
But there are some other UFA goalies the Canes might want to look at.
James Reimer had a good year and while he was traded to San Jose, he is still unsigned. (I would expect him to be signed before July 1st though.). Chad Johnson also had a fairly good year as did Al Montoya. Zatkoff is a possibility as is Hutton, who has been Pekka Rinne's backup in recent years.
The Canes might want to trade for an RFA as well, if the price is right. With John Gibson ready, the Ducks seem willing to trade Frederik Andersen, who at one time was Carolina's property.
If I was Ron Francis, I would try to make a play for Detroit's Petr Mrazek. Now before you laugh and say the Wings would never let him go, hear me out.
Detroit already has Jimmy Howard locked up for two more years at a cap hit of $5.5 million. They do not have a lot of room to work with in cap space. If Mrazek plays hardball, they might not be able to re-sign him. This is where Carolina's stockpile of assets might come in handy.
The Canes could also use those assets to acquire another goalie who is under contract.
Carolina has many options in front of them and perhaps should be looking for a goalie upgrade, if it's not too expensive.
The choice will not be easy.