The Carolina Hurricanes don’t have a goalie.
With the team’s trade of Alex Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings last week, it looks like the Canes will enter the beginning of free agency Wednesday morning without a reliable starter or a backup for the NHL roster.
While the Canes did have three in-house UFA goalies in Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, whose rights were acquired in the Nedeljkovic trade, it’s looking like it’ll be the open market where the Canes find the pieces in net.
That of course doesn’t mean Carolina won’t be bringing back Mrazek and potentially bringing in Bernier, which Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic did report the Canes were looking at doing.
Carolina in discussions with both Jonathan Bernier and Petr Mrazek, hoping to get both UFA goalies signed. Not clear yet if they'll be able to pull it off or not.— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) July 23, 2021
Meanwhile, James Reimer (also UFA) is expected to go to market Wednesday where I think he'll have some solid options.
There’s obviously a good chance that Mrazek and Bernier end up being the two guys for the Canes, but there’s also a good chance one (or both) of those negotiations stall. The Canes could also certainly make a trade for a big-name goaltender, but for now let’s look at the free agent options on the market:
So, we’ll start with Raanta since there are reports that he’s one of the guys the Canes will go with. Raanta played in just 12 games for the Coyotes in 2021, but he’s had a fairly strong run with the team over the past four years.
He’s got a winning record, a 2.57 GAA and .921 save percentage during his four years with Arizona. Raanta is 32 and has had some injury issues, which could be the biggest concern. When he’s been healthy he’s been well above average though, and again he could be a good option in a tandem.
Bally Sports Midwest’s Andy Strickland reported he’s hearing Raanta to Carolina.
Hearing Antti Raanta and Carolina— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) July 27, 2021
Raanta has been really strong, when healthy, for some not so great Coyotes squads. If he is one of the two goalies the Canes go with, it certainly isn’t a bad option.
Petr Mrazek and James Reimer
Let’s not spend a lot of time on this.
Mrazek and Reimer are familiar to the Canes and they are familiar to Canes fans. In three seasons with the Hurricanes, Mrazek has a 50-32-8 record with a 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage. He missed a big chunk of the 2021 season with injury, but finished the year with a 2.06 GAA and .923 save percentage. Both of those numbers are his best for a season in a Canes jersey, though the sample size is of course small.
Reimer, playing as the backup to Mrazek early in 2021 and the backup to Nedeljkovic later in the year, has spent the last two seasons with the Canes and mustered a 2.66 GAA and .910 save percentage.
With these two it seems that things are pretty straightforward. The Canes have a clear interest in bringing Mrazek back, and that would certainly be a good thing for the organization. He’s a strong goalie that has produced well for the Canes. For Reimer, the overwhelming likelihood is that he’ll be playing 2021-22 in a different sweater.
The newest “member” of the Hurricanes, Bernier’s signing rights came to Carolina in the trade that sent Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings.
Come Wednesday that obviously won’t matter, as Bernier will hit the open market with everyone else. Still, the Canes have apparently expressed interest in bringing Bernier on board.
Last year in Detroit, playing behind what certainly wasn’t one of the better defensive units in the league, Bernier posted a 2.99 GAA and .914 save percentage. His goals saved above average was 4.7, the second-highest of his career, and it’s safe to say Bernier was far from the problem with the Red Wings.
Is Bernier a game-changing, huge-name goalie? Well, no. But he’s still a good netminder that could obviously benefit from playing with an improved squad in Raleigh.
With Bernier, the Canes would be getting a fairly consistent workhorse. He’s started 35 or more games in each of his last seven full seasons (2021’s shortened schedule excluded), and he’s had a GAA under 3.00 in all but one of those years.
Working in a tandem with someone else, likely as the 1B option, Bernier could be a good guy to have around.
The general thought is that Grubauer, a Vezina finalist, will be re-signing with the Colorado Avalanche. A deal hasn’t been reached yet, however, so there’s always the possibility that he could be available for other teams to pursue.
Grubauer is coming off the best season of his NHL career, a shortened 2021 campaign which saw him go 30-9-1 with a league-best 1.95 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He also had a league-leading seven shutouts.
And while those numbers are the best of Grubauer’s career, it’s consistent with how he’s played over the past nine years. He has a career GAA of 2.34 and save percentage of .920, as he really has been one of the top goalies in the league.
If Grubauer does go to market, he’s going to be the most highly sought out goalie there. Can the Canes afford what will be a contract pushing, if not exceeding, $5 or 6 million AAV? Probably not, but an elite goaltender makes a team a true contender and Grubauer is just that.
File this one under unlikely, but Grubauer could be available for someone.
If Grubauer were to re-sign with Colorado, Ullmark becomes maybe the premier guy on the market.
He’s still relatively young, just 27, and his numbers are good. In an injury-shortened 2021 season, Ullmark had a 2.63 GAA and .917 save percentage playing behind one of the worst teams in the league.
In his three seasons since coming up to the NHL full time, Ullmark has posted a 41-34-11 record, extra impressive considering his team, and a goals saved above average of 5.4.
Injuries are obviously a concern for Ullmark, who missed the end of this past season with a lower-body injury, but when healthy he has been really good. His price tag will likely be less than Grubauer’s but still relatively high.
The Sabres are reportedly making a push to bring Ullmark back, but nothing is done yet. Ullmark could be a strong 1A option in a tandem, for sure.
A former draft pick of the Hurricanes, it looks like Andersen will hit the open market Wednesday with no deal in place with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Andersen didn’t have the best 2021 campaign, with a GAA pushing 3.00, a save percentage well under the .900 mark and a goals saved above average at an ugly -8.5. It was statistically the worst year of Andersen’s career by a wide margin.
Still though, Andersen is only four years removed from a fourth-place Vezina finish and had four straight seasons where he started over 50 games for the Maple Leafs. At 31-years old Andersen is by no means young, but there’s still some left in the tank for sure.
Would Andersen be an improvement over say Mrazek? Probably not. But if the price is right for the Canes, he’s at least an option to compete in a tandem, maybe as a 1B kind of guy.
Wednesday (and the days following) will be huge for the Carolina Hurricanes, and the biggest question mark comes in net.
Needing to get not one, but two guys in free agency is a unique position for the Hurricanes, but one that opens up a lot of options. It could be as simple as signing Mrazek and Bernier, but both of them will get interest from other teams.
There’s more than just this on the market, with some older veterans like Devan Dubnyk, Jaroslav Halak, Curtis McElhinney and more needing teams as well. If the Canes could pull off getting a guy like Ullmark, then a cheaper veteran behind him may be an option.
Time will tell what the plan is for the Canes in net, but the truth is that Carolina’s goaltending situation is one of the biggest question marks for any team heading into the free agency window opening.