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Don’t read too much into the Carolina Hurricanes’ trade of Eddie Lack

The Canes’ goaltending situation is now cleared up. And it involves neither a platoon, nor undying devotion to days past.

Jamie Kellner

Let’s get this out of the way first: Eddie Lack did not get a fair shake from the Carolina Hurricanes.

From day one, Lack, who was brought in for a third-round pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, seemed to be eternally stuck as the second banana. He had never been a full-time starter, instead platooning with Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller in Vancouver before leaving the Canucks and promptly entering a (theoretical) platoon with Cam Ward.

While Lack was never brought in to be the Canes’ full-time starter, he deserved better than what he got. The chart below shows that Lack’s performance was, at a minimum, roughly equivalent to Ward’s through the 2016-17 season.

Lack vs. Ward stats

Statistic Lack Ward
Statistic Lack Ward
Time on Ice 840.3 2816
Expected goals saved above average per 60 0.2876 -0.02457
High danger save pctg 0.8058 0.7764
Medium danger save pctg 0.9291 0.9306
Low danger save pctg 0.9879 0.9832
Goals saved above expected appearance pctg* 57.89 60.34
High/medium/low danger shots per game 7.35/9.07/11.78 6.67/9.82/12.7
*GSAxA: the percentage of appearances in which the goaltender’s actual goals against is lower than his expected GA.

The concussions Lack suffered through the season obviously impacted this, and without those Ward certainly wouldn’t have played 60 games, but the numbers are what they are. Even in March and April, Lack’s best months, when he gave up fewer actual goals than expected goals in every game he played save one, the best he could do was a straight split with Ward: twelve games for Ward, eleven for Lack.

This isn’t to say that Lack had a good season; he didn’t. What it does say, though, is that it was, at most, marginally worse than Ward’s.

Which brings us to Scott Darling. As opposed to Lack, Darling was brought in specifically to be the starting goaltender. Barring an injury, he will start opening night, and I’m willing to bet my mortgage on that. This isn’t the same situation that Lack entered two years ago. Darling is the number-one goaltender for the Hurricanes, not a 1A or 1B.

I’m going to put that in a big quote, because I’m willing to stick my head out on this:

That’s why the Canes’ trade of Lack to Calgary isn’t an endorsement of Ward, but rather a recognition that at this point of their careers, Ward is more suited to be the backup to Darling than Lack is.

Ward will be 34 in February. Lack doesn’t turn 30 until January. Ward’s been a loyal, if below-average, soldier for many years, and part of the reason that his performance in 2016-17 was so subpar was simply that he was overworked. Look at the end of the year in the chart above: the blue dots (games where actual goals outnumbered expected goals) became more spread out as the season went on. With a lighter workload, Ward can reasonably be expected to perform at a standard backup level.

Lack, meanwhile, did his best work in a straight platoon in March and April. It’s fair to question whether he should have been stuck there, but that’s beside the point. When he was Ward’s backup early in the season, he was not good. A backup role for him behind Darling wouldn’t suit him. (To that end, he’s going into yet another platoon with the Flames, this time alongside Mike Smith.)

If anything, this trade solidifies Darling’s presumed hold on the top spot in the Carolina net. Ward simply can’t be used as much as he was last season, and if he is I’ll be the first one in line coming back here to rake Bill Peters over the coals for it.

The one regret in this move is that Lack never got a chance to prove himself outside of the coaching of David Marcoux, who was given the heave-ho in favor of former Penguins goaltending coach Mike Bales. Under Marcoux, Lack changed his preferred style of play, to disastrous results. Under a different coach, Lack could have shown a different side to his play, but then you’d be right back to the same problem: a better performance from Lack would mean that the Canes would have invested more than $7 million per year in a platoon.

So this was the logical move. Lack gets into a position with the Flames, playing more frequently, where he’s had success. Ward moves into a backup role, playing less frequently, where he’s more likely to have some semblance of success. And Darling, who didn’t get a four-year deal to play 40 games a year, will be the workhorse in goal for the Hurricanes.

It’s a win-win-win all around.