Part III: Who Is Odd Man Out in Goalie Jam for GMRF?
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This is part two of a three part series that looks at the Hurricanes goaltending situation. I elected to do this in three parts to try and keep the articles shorter. Part one focused on what the goaltending depth looks like for the Hurricanes. Part two discussed who should be the top-four goalie coach candidates that I believe GMRF should be interviewing. Finally, today is part three and will evaluate how to approach Ward/Lack this off-season.
Today focuses on who should be the top-four goalie coach candidates that I believe GMRF should be interviewing. Finally, part three will evaluate how to approach Ward/Lack this off-season.
There isn’t a set answer to this situation. I think the best answer is GMRF will make the decision that puts the franchise in the best position. Luckily, since both Ward and Lack are in the final year of their contracts, they are not long-term risks. The biggest aspect here is to ensure that the Hurricanes don’t try to solve a short-term issue by creating long-term problems with the solution.
I know that seems pretty obvious, but this really will be a wait and see game. From reading most of what is out there, it appears that GMRF is content on waiting until the expansion draft or NHL Draft to make a decision. This seems logical as there are many teams that will be reacting to the loss of a goaltender due to Las Vegas.
Looking at the expansion draft, I don’t think that either Ward or Lack are selected by Vegas. While there certainly is the possibility, it doesn’t seem likely based on the preliminary examination of goalies likely to be exposed: Mrazek, Murray, Grubauer, Varlamov, etc. Pending that Vegas selects neither, I think GMRF would be looking at a few scenarios:
1: Trade Lack, trade (or buy-out) Ward and sign a new back-up: I don’t know if GMRF would be able to move both goalies in a trade, however, if that were a possibility, I could see him doing it. The UFA pool this summer doesn’t appear to be too shabby, and one of the UFA’s might help create less pressure as Darling transitions to a starter.
In the event the transition is a bit bumpy, the Hurricanes need a goalie who can provide reliability and consistency for at least 30-40 games. This role is more of a 1B to Darling—looking at the UFA’s, there are plenty of those potentially available: Mason, Elliot, Johnson, Bernier, or Nilsson and many others.
If GMRF and Coach Peters aren’t confident that either Ward or Lack can provide the consistency needed if Darling can’t do 60+ games, then the UFA market needs to be a serious consideration.
2: Keep Lack, trade or buy-out Ward: Above I mentioned trading both, however, I think it will be easier to move Lack than Ward. Despite that, I would put a bigger emphasis on moving Ward than Lack. While I do like Ward and what he has done for the organization, he is approaching 34 years-old next season, and is showing classic signs of “goalie aging.”
One area that I think stood out this season is with Ward’s footspeed and technique. Many times this season it appeared he was still moving out towards the puck, as opposed to being able to get across and set. The result all too often ended up with him making the first save but being too far out of position for the rebound. Granted, one would like the D to provide more help at times, but Ward wasn’t helping himself either.
As he continues to age, components of his game that allowed him to once be a great reactionary goalie will continue to slow down—it’s just science.
Given the amount of UFA’s in the market, I don’t see GMRF being able to move him until after the free agent market opens up. The one avenue that GMRF might be able to move Ward on is through retaining salary. However, I am not sure if it makes sense to retain salary, as it might cost almost as much to buy him out simply.
I do see a strong rationale for keeping Lack too. He is only 29 years-old and is on a favorable deal with one season remaining. When he was healthy at the end of last season, he posted some strong numbers through March. Now that Marcoux is out, there is the chance that Lack’s game improves to a more consistent level with a new goalie coach.
He could very well have four or five very good seasons in the tank. If he finds his game late, similarly to Dubnyk situation, it would be a shame to cut ties with him too quickly. I think there are more reasons to keep Lack than to move him.
3: Keep Ward and trade Lack: I don’t think that GMRF would do this one, however, it is a possibility. This is the strategy that I think is the easiest to achieve, but not necessarily the best long-term. The main reason this would appear easier is that Lack probably provides more trade value than Ward does.
If GMRF wanted to move Lack, I wouldn’t be surprised if he received some offers throughout the expansion draft. As some teams lose a goalie to Vegas, Lack will be a good acquisition because of his contract and age. I don’t see this getting much return, however, it also doesn’t disadvantage the organization too much.
The most likely candidates that I could see calling based off of current needs or the potential to lose a goalie in the expansion are: Calgary, Vancouver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Colorado or Washington. It is tough to predict the suitors until the protected lists come out and Vegas starts picking though. I would imagine that Vancouver could be a strong fit, as Miller is a UFA and Markstrom isn’t a bonafide starter.
The main question in this scenario is less about the viability of moving Lack and more on how Ward will do in a back-up role. He has shown that he can provide strong goaltending during stretches—so, there is an argument that with less responsibility, Ward might be a sound back-up option. I think the main fear here would be what happens if Darling goes down and Ward ends up starting 60+ games like this season.
Looking at all three options, I am most comfortable with approaching either the first or second one. I most likely lean towards the second one, as I don’t see GMRF being able or willing to cut ties with both Lack and Ward.
If I were GMRF, I would probably look to move Ward and keep Lack. If Lack isn’t up to par after October/November, then it would be time to trade/waive him and bring in a different back-up.
My goal now is to focus on other avenues of the team, as we have thoroughly looked at the goalies now. Thanks for taking the time to read and all the feedback on the series. Check back this weekend for more on the Hurricanes.