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Canes Revisionist History: Frederik Andersen, The One Who Didn’t Get Away

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For years, Hurricanes fans have lamented Andersen’s decision to spurn the team in 2012. What would life be like today had things gone a different way?

Photographic proof of what might have been.
Jamie Kellner

Every year on June 1, Twitter lights up with the names of a smattering of prospects who did not agree to contracts with the clubs that drafted them, making them eligible for re-selection in the upcoming NHL Draft. It typically isn’t a big deal; teams or a member of the local media tweet that a player, maybe two, will not be signed to a contract and will re-enter the draft, everyone nods and moves along, and that’s that.

It almost never prompts a press release from a team - that is, unless the team is the Carolina Hurricanes and the unsigned player is Frederik Andersen.

On June 1, 2012, the Hurricanes released a statement from a reportedly furious Jim Rutherford on Andersen failing to come to terms on an entry-level deal, a nearly unprecedented shot at a player the team had repeatedly tried to sign, only to be stymied:

“We tried to sign Frederik to a contract, and made him aware that we felt there was an opportunity here for him to earn one of our two NHL spots during training camp,” said Rutherford. “We are very disappointed that he chose not to join our organization. Prior to him changing his agent, we had every indication that he was very interested in being a part of the Carolina Hurricanes.”

It would come out later that Andersen’s reluctance to sign a contract was based in large part on his unwillingness to play second fiddle to Cam Ward for the indeterminate future. (And, given what unfolded in the subsequent six seasons, that might not have been an unfounded fear.)

But what if Andersen had decided differently? Let’s go season by season, recognizing that his statistics with the Ducks and Maple Leafs are with teams that enjoyed a good bit more success than the Hurricanes in those six seasons.


2012-13

Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Cam Ward 17 2.84 0.908 0.910 -1.20
Justin Peters 19 3.46 0.892 0.905 -7.06
Dan Ellis 19 3.13 0.905 0.906 -0.23

This season would have likely been exactly the same, because the lockout wiped out half the year and it seems likely the Canes would have kept Andersen in Charlotte to get him playing time during the work stoppage. That’s exactly what Anaheim did, and Andersen posted solid numbers with the Norfolk Admirals: a 2.19 and .929 in 47 games. The Canes finished 13 points out of the postseason in the 48-game schedule, so even if Andersen had backed up Ward, the likelihood that he would have had any discernable impact was small at best.


2013-14

Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Anton Khudobin 36 2.30 0.926 0.918 8.81
Cam Ward 30 3.06 0.898 0.912 -11.56
Justin Peters 21 2.50 0.918 0.916 1.22
Frederik Andersen 28 2.29 0.923 0.911 9.06

This season could have been much different if Andersen were still with the team. Anton Khudobin started the season on IR and didn’t return until January. Ward missed a month of action two different times, and when he did play he was sub-replacement level. Justin Peters treaded water while both Ward and Khudobin were on the shelf, but the Canes’ slow start meant anything other than a Herculean effort from the third-stringer wouldn’t be enough.

This was Khudobin’s best season, and he went on a tear in January with Ward sidelined, going 10-4-0 and claiming the starter’s crease for the remainder of the season. However, he crashed after the Olympics, going 6-8-1, and just as quickly as the Canes were in the playoff conversation, they vanished, finishing ten points out.

Andersen, in his first season in the NHL backing up John Gibson with the Ducks, posted solid numbers, very similar to Khudobin’s - who likely wouldn’t have signed with Carolina in the first place had Andersen been there. So, what you’re basically looking at is whether Andersen would (1) have replaced Peters in the first month of the year with Ward out (yes), and (2) if he would have been able to shoulder as heavy a load as Khudobin did in the second half (unlikely, for a rookie).

Oddly, Andersen being in Carolina might actually have cost the Canes a few points in this season, because if you’re being generous and give him 35 games, that would leave Ward with 47, including most of the final month of the season. Given how Ward played in just 30 games, it’s likely a larger share of the workload would not exactly have been a positive development.


2014-15

Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Cam Ward 51 2.40 0.910 0.916 -8.07
Anton Khudobin 34 2.70 0.902 0.911 -7.94
Frederik Andersen 54 2.38 0.914 0.914 0.09

Andersen’s worst statistical season to date was one to forget for all parties involved. Khudobin crashed back to earth, Ward was pretty much as expected, and Andersen probably wouldn’t have mattered all that much. The Hurricanes were irrelevant from the season’s opening faceoff and didn’t win a game until November, and they eventually finished 27 points out of the postseason. Andersen might have narrowed that gap to 22 or 23, but this would have been a lost cause no matter who was playing goal.


2015-16

Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Cam Ward 52 2.41 0.909 0.915 -7.63
Eddie Lack 34 2.81 0.901 0.910 -7.61
Frederik Andersen 43 2.30 0.919 0.914 4.89

This is the first season where you could make a case that Andersen’s presence might have tilted the scales toward the Hurricanes sneaking into a playoff spot. Replace 34 games of Eddie Lack at a GSAA of nearly -8 with 43 of Andersen at a shade under +5, knock seven games off Ward’s number (probably cutting down his GSAA to -6 or so), and all of a sudden a team that conceded 226 goals becomes a team that gave up 212. That’s fewer than the Rangers (217), Islanders (216) and Flyers (218) — all playoff teams — allowed.

Now, the bigger concern was that the Canes couldn’t score at the other end and give whoever was playing goal some help. Realistically, the Canes needed probably 10 more goals from their roster to finish the deal, getting their goal differential somewhere in the neighborhood of 0 to -5. But with passable goaltending — which Andersen provided to the Ducks — the Canes would have been in shouting distance, probably around 92 points and a hot streak away from a playoff spot.


2016-17

Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Cam Ward 61 2.69 0.905 0.912 -10.78
Michael Leighton 4 3.42 0.870 0.902 -3.02
Eddie Lack 20 2.64 0.902 0.911 -4.41
Frederik Andersen 66 2.67 0.918 0.910 15.64

Michael Leighton alert!

In our alternate universe, Andersen, who had outplayed Ward the previous season in a roughly even workshare split, assumes the starter’s mantle this season, just like he did when he was traded to Toronto in the summer of 2016. With Ward’s starts limited to maybe 25, his subpar season is somewhat mitigated, and Andersen might not have played 66 games but 55 is certainly a reasonable expectation. Fifty-five games at those numbers would have moved the Canes up a couple of spots, but they had four teams to overcome to claim a playoff spot, which proved to be more of a stumbling block than the eight points they finished out of the playoffs.

Again, though, the Hurricanes couldn’t score, and that’s a high hurdle that solid goaltending on its own can’t overcome. Even if Andersen had an identical season to the one he turned in with the Leafs, the Canes still would be unlikely to leapfrog their way into the playoffs, reliant on an overperformance from someone that didn’t actually happen.

Instead of a two-year deal, Ward signs a one-year contract prior to the season with the expectation that he will back up Andersen and transition into an elder statesman role. Unlike what happened in the real world, here in our alternate reality that’s exactly what happened.

Oh, and Eddie Lack makes a f*cking save for some other team.


2017-18

Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Goaltender Games played GAA Save percentage Expected save pctg GSAA
Scott Darling 43 3.18 0.888 0.907 -21.56
Cam Ward 43 2.73 0.906 0.914 -10.21
Frederik Andersen 66 2.81 0.918 0.908 22.24

Let’s assume for a second that the Canes, with Andersen now entering his second season as the unquestioned starter in our alternate universe, parted ways with Ward in the summer of 2017 rather than 2018. The trade for Scott Darling never happens, and the Canes sign Replacement Goalie X with a GSAA of exactly zero.

Add: Andersen (GSAA 22.2), Replacement Goalie X (GSAA 0.0).
Subtract: Ward (GSAA -10.2), Darling (-21.6).

I’m no math major, but that’s a swing of 54 goals! Fifty-four!!

FIFTY-FOUR GOALS AGAINST!!!!!

Yeah, the Hurricanes would have made the playoffs even without adding a single goal at the other end. In fact, making that change would have given the Hurricanes a league-leading 202 goals against. The next closest team in the East was Boston, at 214. The goal differential would have gone from -28 to +26, which would have led the Metro.

Put simply: Andersen behind last year’s Hurricanes defense, with no other changes anywhere on the roster except in goal, would have almost certainly resulted in a 100-point season and a matchup with the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, with the Canes very possibly holding home-ice advantage.

Now, that said, the Hurricanes still couldn’t score, although it wasn’t quite as pronounced as the previous two seasons. Still, 228 goals would have been by far the fewest of the eight Eastern playoff teams, so the chances of the Canes going deep into the playoffs would probably be pretty low. But this is the first season we can definitively say that losing Andersen cost the Canes a playoff spot.


To summarize, if the Hurricanes had signed Andersen in 2012, they would have had six more seasons with him in the pipeline. In three of those seasons, his presence wouldn’t have made a difference. Two of them were borderline, but probably falling just short, and one saw him as the difference between making the playoffs and falling short by 14 points.

What’s more interesting to prognosticate over is the downstream effects of Andersen staying in Raleigh. If the Canes hit 100 points last season, are Bill Peters and Ron Francis still employed by the Canes? Do the Canes feel the need to shore up their defense quite as much by signing Calvin de Haan and trading for Dougie Hamilton? Would Noah Hanifin, for one, have developed further with a more sure thing behind him? Would the decline of Justin Faulk have been as pronounced?

One thing’s for sure: the Hurricanes would be looking at a short term future with an established number-one goaltender entering next season, rather than rolling the dice with Darling and Petr Mrazek. Neither of them has ever sniffed a GSAA number near Andersen’s +22 last season, but the Canes might be able to score their way out of games and, if the Canes can get a team GSAA in the +5 to +10 range, that could be enough to do the trick.

But there would be a lot fewer crossed fingers, both in the fanbase and in the front office, if that press release had never hit the wire six summers ago.

** Stats from NHL.com (GAA, Sv%) and Corsicahockey.com (xSv%, GSAA), all situations.