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Canes enter free agency looking for a goalie. But who?

Cam Ward, for many years the Carolina Hurricanes' franchise goalie, signed as a free agent with Chicago on July 1, 2018.
Cam Ward, for many years the Carolina Hurricanes' franchise goalie, signed as a free agent with Chicago on July 1, 2018.

The start of NHL free agency on Sunday will have a new meaning this year for the Carolina Hurricanes.

From all indications, Cam Ward will be leaving in free agency.

Long the Hurricanes' franchise goalie and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup champions, Ward is expected to sign a one-year free-agent deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. If so, he will leave the Canes after 13 seasons, after 318 career victories, after making his No. 30 jersey a Hurricanes staple.

Ward also would leave the Hurricanes in need of a goalie, of someone to pair with Scott Darling.

Ron Francis, as the Canes' general manager, once called the start of free agency -- along with the NHL trade deadline -- arguably the scariest and craziest day of the year, certainly with the money being thrown around by NHL teams on free agents.

Francis' successor as GM, Don Waddell, doesn't disagree.

"I think it is," Waddell said. "In all my years, including the years (as GM) in Atlanta, I'd rather wait. I don't need to shop at Nieman Marcus. I can wait and shop at Walmart and get the same players.

"You can't get caught up on July 1 and overpay on an emotional decision. As we all know, it's a big business and we have to make the right decisions from that end."

With the Carolina Hurricanes prospect development camp ending June 30,2018, coach Rod Brind'Amour assesses NHL free agency and the Canes' biggest needs.

Remember 2016? Remember the Edmonton Oilers throwing a seven-year, $42 million deal at Milan Lucic and the Buffalo Sabres doing the same with Kyle Okposo? Those were "Nieman Marcus" free-agent buys.

The Hurricanes made a sensible signing last year, bringing back forward Justin Williams. The price was $9 million -- $5 million last season, $4 million this season -- but Williams is worth it for the Canes.

Waddell said again Saturday that the plan is to acquire a free-agent goalie. "We'll be signing someone in the next 24 hours or so," he said.

Among the goalies the Canes may have contacted are Petr Mrazek and Robin Lehner, who became unrestricted free agents when not given qualifying offers by their respective teams -- Mrazek from the Flyers, Lehner from the Buffalo Sabres.

And what of Jeff Skinner? He's not a free agent, but his future with the Canes could be decided by what happens in free agency.

The Canes are still listening to offers for the winger, although none with which the Canes are "comfortable," Waddell said.

Skinner, who has one year left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent, also has a no-move clause and apparently hasn't been hesitant to use it. That limits the Canes' possibilities in any trade talks.

Waddell said the start of free agency, and various teams inevitably being jilted going after players, could make any Skinner trade offers even more attractive.

"As I continue to say, we've got a good player here who scores 30 goals," Waddell said. "We've had a lot of people talking to us. We think the market place is only going to get stronger because there are still some teams that think they're going to fill that void in free agency and there's not many players of his caliber out there.

"So patience will pay off for us in that situation. And if we don't get what we think are the right assets (in an offer) we'll bring him back and he'll be a good player for us on this ice."

Waddell pointed out at the PNC Arena ice, where the Canes' prospects were going through a busy practice.

At least two of the players in development camp -- forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas -- could be in the Canes' lineup come October. That line of thinking begins at the top, with Canes owner Tom Dundon, who likes the idea of the two first-round draft picks on the ice wheeling and dealing.

Waddell signed forward Valentin Zykov on Friday to a two-year, one-way contract. He's another young guy -- the Russian is 23 -- who can score goals and a player the Canes could have penciled into the lineup.

"I'm excited about the group we have right now and any additions will just make us that much better," Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour said Saturday.

With Ward apparently gone and the Canes committed to continuing to work with Darling, the biggest need is another goaltender. That's where the Canes' focus will be Sunday, with Waddell saying the team has done all its "due diligence."

Dundon will not be in Raleigh on Sunday, Waddell said, but he'll be connected. Count on that.

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