Aside from the magical run by Anton Khudobin to vault the Hurricanes to 17th in league wide team save% in 2013-14, the Canes have been in the bottom-5 in 4 of the last 5 seasons in that category, ranking 27th 3 times, and a dismal 29th in 2015-16. Because of those horrid numbers, Canes general manager Ron Francis has announced that goaltending coach David Marcoux will not return to the club next year, and has put a heavy emphasis of fixing the Canes prolonging problem of well below average goaltending which has plagued the hockey club for the better part of the last 5 seasons, and has been a huge factor in their league leading 8-year playoff drought.
Along with Marcoux, it’s entirely possible that either Cam Ward or Eddie Lack are on the chopping block, potentially both of them. Both have been far from inspiring in the Canes crease, with their performances marred with inconsistency and mediocre play; to put it lightly. Ward has been well below the league average save% for 5 consecutive seasons, and Lack has not shown that he’s capable of carrying a starting load; from game to game you just don’t know what you’re going to get from him. The Canes are ok in the prospect department, with Alex Nedeljkovic being the gem of the bunch and real inspiring strides from Callum Booth, along with holdover Daniel Altshuller and recently drafted Jack LaFontaine, the Canes aren’t in bad shape for the future. The problem is the present, as neither of those guys are even close to being NHL ready, and the current state of the Canes goaltending leaves much to be desired. So where does that leave us?
The Canes definitely have options in terms of which direction they want to go with their crease woes. With the expansion draft upcoming, some teams might be willing to part ways with goaltenders they can’t protect instead of potentially losing them for nothing. Joonas Korpisalo (CLB) definitely fits the bill and is my favourite option, as well as Philip Grubauer (WSH), but both guys are relatively inexperienced and maybe not ideal for handling a starting load at this point – but then again, everyone is inexperienced at one point or another, and guys need a chance to prove what they can do. The other route the Canes can take is free agency. Options potentially available will include Ben Bishop, Steve Mason, Scott Darling, and Mike Condon amongst others. The question is, how much would the Canes be willing to spend on upgrading the position, and what will be done with Ward or Lack, who are on the hook for about 6 million combined in salary for 2017-18? These are answers that Ron Francis will have to figure out, but let me say this: I would be utterly shocked if there isn’t moves made on the Canes goaltending depth chart.
Another question is who will be coaching the Canes goalies next year? There’s clearly no immediate answer, but hear me out on a scenario that really could work. Former Canes netminder Arturs Irbe manned the Sabres goaltending coach gig in the 2014-15 season, and had some rather inspiring results. Buffalo, despite having a historically terrible season and finishing with just 23 wins and 54 points, finished 21st in the NHL in terms of save percentage. I know, 21st doesn’t sound great, but let me go more in depth with this. The 5 goalies who started at least 1 game for Buffalo that year were as follows; Michal Neuvirth, Jhonas Enroth, Anders Lindback, Matt Hackett and Andrey Makarov. The only goaltender from that list still currently employed in the NHL is Neuvirth, who was a member of the Phildadelphia Flyers this year. The Flyers goaltending was equally as awful as the Canes. So clearly, Irbe managed to make a good hand out of a crappy deal, and Sabres fans were very impressed with what he did that year. (Side note: Irbe, age 47 at the time, even suited up as the emergency goalie in a game for them that year, Jorge Alves style). So when the Sabres season ended, their entire coaching staff was relieved of duties with the exception of Irbe. Dan Bylsma was then hired as head coach, and met with Irbe. They mutually agreed to part ways for whatever reason (probably because Bylsma wanted his own staff) and Irbe returned to his family. He has stated that he would be open for a return to coaching in the right situation.
So what makes the Canes the right situation for Irbe? Well, he was the Canes starting goalie for the better part of 5 years, went to a Stanley Cup final with the team, and played with both Canes GM Ron Francis and assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour. He has a good history with the team, and would obviously be a very well qualified option to take over for Marcoux.
It’s anyones guess who’ll be in the Canes crease next season, and who’ll be behind the bench coaching them, but it’s clearly an area of emphasis for the team and an interesting storyline to follow as it develops over the offseason. The Canes obviously have a huge need in terms of goaltending, as their subpar goaltending has been perennially haunting them for a long while. It’s a good sign that Ron Francis has noticed this, and an even better sign that he plans to do anything in his power to solve the issue.
Article written by Alex Ohari of weliveforhockey.com