Last week was a busy one for the Carolina Hurricanes.
They signed Finnish youngsters Sebastion Aho and Aleksi Saarela to entry level deals. Derek Ryan was re-signed for another season. They also acquired Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for two draft picks. For a moment, Ron Francis was looking like a genius and excitement for the season was percolating.
Then on Thursday, they announced a two-year contract extension for Cam Ward. Just speaking for myself, to be honest the good vibrations I had from the previous day were forgotten and a bit of disappointment ensued.
Now before I am labeled as a "Cam Ward hater", there is absolutely nothing to hate about Ward. By all counts he's a tremendous person. He's a family man who does a lot for the Special Olympics cause and much, much more. What is there not to like about him? He is to be commended about all of this.
But from my perspective, this is professional hockey and it all comes down to numbers and accountability.
There was certainly accountability for Eric Staal, who was dealt on trade deadline day to the Rangers. Carolina's GM has made no mention of him returning, even at half of his salary for a short term, (which he might be happy to accept at this point.)
Staal and Ward were the two common denominators remaining after the last seven years of failing to make the playoffs. There was thinking that the club might want to move on, start with fresh faces, and put those seven years behind them since both player's inflated contracts ended at the same time. But one of those players was rewarded with a new contract.
Give him credit, Ward did get hot at the perfect time and put up some decent numbers last season from December on as Francis has mentioned in subsequent interviews. But even Luke DeCock points out in his article, the goalie has had hot streaks in the past but usually has not been able to keep them going throughout an entire season.
And as good as he was in the second half, he’s been good through stretches before and has rarely been able to stretch that out over a full season.
His .909 save percentage for the season is nothing to write home about, as we have talked about here in previous articles.
Reaction concerning this signing was pretty mixed around the league. Some felt that it was "okay". Others could not understand it.
Greg Balloch of "In Goal Magazine" put forth numerous stats in this article which indicates that Ward is a "below average" goaltender in the league and has been for awhile. He calls the signing a "head-scratcher".
Even if we adjust for shot location, it’s not pretty. Using Nick Mercadante‘s AdjGSAA/60 statistic, only three goaltenders have had a bigger negative impact on their teams over the last four seasons than Ward. Those goaltenders are Anders Lindback, Curtis McElhinney, and Niklas Backstrom.
The good news in all of this is that things could be worse. The Canes could be sitting with either Jimmy Howard from Detroit or Antti Niemi of Dallas. Both had worse numbers than Ward and are making more money.
It seems Carolina management was not enthused about the free agent market for goalies, although I may have made a play for Chad Johnson, who had a save percentage of .920 for Buffalo last season. He should be available for a reasonable price or term.
The club obviously did not want to wait for free agency though, they wrapped up Ward well before they could even speak with free agents about to hit the market.
One would think that there are quality goalies available for trade. A few teams around the league have what could be considered, two starting goalies. St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay should be considering trades now, because if they do not make a trade this season, they could lose a valuable asset for nothing in the expansion draft next summer.
While the prices might be high now, those prices should become more reasonable as time goes on. The Canes did not have the patience to wait this game out.
Speaking of the expansion draft, that should not be a problem for the Hurricanes regarding goalies. Even if they did make a trade for a new netminder, they could protect him because Alex Nedeljkovic would not be expansion draft eligible yet because of the number of NHL games played.
The team could make either Lack or Ward available and most likely neither would be picked up anyway, (unless things change drastically).
Speaking of Eddie Lack, are his days in Carolina numbered now? Has Francis got more tricks up his sleeve or are the Canes going to enter the season with the same pair of goalies who were at one point last season deemed, "the worst tandem in the NHL".
One would think Lack has a good chance to improve upon his .901 save percentage of last year since the year before he posted a .921 percentage with Vancouver.
Finally, it is hard to fathom that the Ward signing, which was advertised as a stop-gap measure, will do anything to spur excitement or sell tickets in Raleigh. He has his fans, but they are most likely already loyal season ticket holders.
Most likely, hearing that Cam Ward is returning will do nothing to motivate the casual fan to buy tickets and that is what this franchise needs.
Perhaps the 32-year-old can continue his hot streak from the end of last year and have a career year next season. Maybe he can make all the naysayers wrong.
It would be a great story if he could.
Of course the draft is coming up this weekend and a variety of different things could happen. Will the Hurricanes be wheeling and dealing? Should they be? We will be discussing that next.
Update: The Canes' home opener has been announced: Friday, October 28 against the New York Rangers. The season starts later this season because of the World Cup of Hockey, which means that the State Fair road trip will occur before the Canes play their first home game. We know when that trip will begin: on Thursday, October 13 against the Winnipeg Jets, when the Canes will be the visitors for the Jets' home opener. So expect a 5-6 game road trip before the Canes get home to start the 2016-17 home slate.