Throughout the nine-year playoff drought, many things have changed about the Carolina Hurricanes. Some years they were good offensively but poor defensively. In others they have stellar defense but lacked offense. Coaches have changed and so have the players, but one thing has remained constant for the Canes: goaltending woes. So as the team heads towards the summer it is once again left searching for answers in net and they may explore free agency to do so.
Today we will look at a few unrestricted free agency options for the Hurricanes to target this year. It is worth noting that we left off any RFA goaltenders as the mere thought of an offer sheet in the NHL seems to be less likely than, well, pigs flying. Those goalies would almost certainly need to be acquired via trade which is a whole different article in itself.
- Age – 32
- NHL Seasons - 5
- 2017-18 stats– 32 GP, 17-7-3, 2.09 GAA, .931 SV%, 3 Shutouts
- Career stats – 138 GP, 63-39-17, 2.42 GAA, .915 SV%, 11 Shutouts
- Previous Contract – 2 years, $1.125 Mil AAV
While much of the free agency class for goaltenders this year looks weak, Carter Hutton is the one man who will get a fairly hefty raise this summer. Splitting time with Jake Allen in St. Louis, Hutton had his best statistical year, leading the NHL in save percentage and goals against average. Just as Scott Darling had shown with the Blackhawks, Hutton has proven himself in backup and 1A/1B roles for multiple years now and is ready to try and take the leap to just a number one. It’s been reported that he will test the open market which means many teams will be calling about his services.
For the Hurricanes he should be the primary target if they decided to address goaltending via free agency. The downside to Hutton is that he is already 32 years old and will be looking for a multiple year deal. He may not be a guy you can build around long-term, but he could be helpful in holding down the fort until prospects Alex Nedeljkovic or Callum Booth are NHL ready. The hope would be that Scott Darling can find his game and push Hutton with the worst case being they become a 1A/1B like what Hutton is already used to in St. Louis.
- Age – 32
- NHL Seasons - 6
- 2017-18 stats– 31 GP, 16-6-7, 2.56 GAA, .913 SV%, 1 Shutout
- Career stats – 147 GP, 67-51-16, 2.47 GAA, .915 SV%, 6 Shutouts
- Previous Contract – 2 years, $1.2 Mil AAV
If something doesn’t work the first time, should you try again? With Anton Khudobin that may very well be the correct call. After spending two years in Carolina and becoming a fan favorite, it was clear things weren’t quite working out in Raleigh for “Dobby”. After spending a season in the Ducks organization, he shipped back up to Boston and has rejuvenated his career behind Tuukka Rask. He’s been so effective that many were calling for him to be the starter at one point during this past season.
Could Khudobin return to Carolina and make it work this time? It could be a risky move by the Hurricanes knowing how it turned out the first time. The prevailing thought is the organization wants a true number one and Khudobin likely isn’t that. But should they decide to go the tandem route, he could be a perfect guy for a 1B role.
- Age – 29
- NHL Seasons - 8
- 2017-18 stats– 37 GP, 19-13-3, 2.85 GAA, 9.13 SV%, 2 Shutouts
- Career stats – 289 GP, 128-108-30, 2.68 GAA, .914 SV%, 16 Shutouts
- Previous Contract – 1 year, $2.75 Mil AAV
Jonathan Bernier has yet to find a stable home since being traded by Toronto to Anaheim in 2016. But in a backup role with the Avalanche this season he did a fairly decent job. Being forced in to staring duties when Seymon Varlamov got injured, Bernier carried his team into the playoffs before being injured midway through the series. The former first round pick will be trying to land himself a multiple year deal somewhere with the opportunity to become a starter again or at least a 1A.
Having playoff experience and dealing with multiple years of media scrutiny in Toronto and LA, Bernier will likely find comfort in smaller market teams such as Colorado or even Carolina. That’s why it could make sense for him to move east and make home in Raleigh. He is no superstar goalie, but much like many of the options on this list he could help the Hurricanes for a few years until the prospects are ready.
- Age – 33
- NHL Seasons – 12
- 2017-18 stats– 54 GP, 20-26-6, 3.19 GAA, .908 SV%, 1 Shutout
- Career stats – 449 GP, 232-150-48, 2.50 GAA, .916 SV%, 42 Shutouts
- Previous Contract – 4 years, $4.5 Mil AAV
Not many goalies are still around that started playing in 2006, but Jaroslav Halak is one of the few still going. He’s been through a lot during his career including being sent to the AHL in 2017. Ultimately he bounced back, becoming the Islanders starter this past season - only to have his worst year ever.
He is coming off a large contract and New York appears to have no interest in bringing him back. Halak coming to Carolina makes sense in only one way. Should the Canes trade or buy out Scott Darling while bringing in a legitimate number one goalie, then Halak could enter in a back up role. He will be cheap and plenty of teams will be weary, but he can bring a veteran presence plus the experience of a being a starter should something happen to the new number one guy.
- Age – 34
- NHL Seasons - 13
- 2017-18 stats– 37 GP, 15-14-3, 2.56 GAA, .912 SV%, 1 Shutout
- Career stats – 649 GP, 310-233-67, 2.71 GAA, .912 SV%, 38 Shutouts
- Previous Contract – 5 years, $5.9 Mil AAV
When the Dallas Stars acquired Ben Bishop to be their new starting goalie many in the Stars community figured the end was near for Kari Lehtonen. He would be thrust in to a back up role after being the starter for over a decade and nobody was quite sure how he would handle it.
Sound familiar? The similarities to Lehtonen and Cam Ward are certainly present in more ways than one. He underperformed as the starter for the Stars for many years and many fans grew tired of him, but the franchise pushed on with their guy until last year. He was pushed to a backup role after the team brought in a new guy to take over the number one role. Not to mention, he also only helped his team get to two postseason appearances while in Dallas.
Regardless of the similarities with Carolina’s current situation, Lehtonen proved he could be an effective back up with a fair amount of rest and limited games. Should the Canes decide to let Ward go, bringing in Lehtonen could offset the veteran presence being lost and also give the team a reliable option should Scott Darling continue to falter.
- Age – 34
- NHL Seasons - 13
- 2017-18 stats– 43 GP, 23-14-4, 2.73 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 Shutouts
- Career stats – 668 GP, 318-244-84, 2.70 GAA, .909 SV %, 27 Shutouts
- Previous Contract – 2 Years, $3.3 Mil AAV
Speaking of Cam Ward, you really didn’t think we could make it through an article on potential free agent goalies without mentioning the longest tenured Hurricane, did you? Believe it or not, Ward had more wins last season than any other free agent goaltender with 22. He also is the only free agent goalie to win a Stanley Cup.
But more importantly, the reason the Hurricanes should bring back Cam Ward is because he has earned it. He has earned the right to retire as a Hurricane on his own terms. He is one of the few reasons the Hurricanes even sniffed the playoffs last year. He outplayed Scott Darling and proved he can be an effective back up which is all the team should ask from him.
But all this only matters if the Canes can get rid of Darling somehow. Chicago seems interested but if that doesn’t work out then Ward will be the odd man out. The team has made it clear both guys will not return next season, one who deserves to and one who doesn’t. And it’s very possible the one that deserves to won’t get the opportunity to. A one or two year contract around $2 million should be fair for Ward and it will be his final deal. Then he can retire and ride off into the sunset.
Who knows it any of these guys will sign here but it’s always fun taking a look at who may. Overall it is a weak free agency class, especially in goal, so many teams will be looking to upgrade via trade including the Canes. But there’s always potential for some of these goaltenders to sign here in the right scenario.
That concludes our look at potential free agent targets for the 2018 off season. Drop a comment on any other suggestions regarding free agent goalies!