Buried in the avalanche of information that came out of the Carolina Hurricanes’ media day a few weeks ago was one interesting little nugget from new coach Bill Peters.
Peters said he’d like one of his goalies to play 60 games, which is pretty standard stuff from coaches who generally prefer to have a No. 1 goalie and a backup. Except in these specific circumstances, it’s reasonably explosive proposition.
Not because the Hurricanes don’t have a goalie capable of playing 60 games. They do. They have two, if (and that’s a big if) Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin are each on their game. And that’s the issue. If one goalie is playing 60 games, that means the other is playing 22. There isn’t enough playing time to go around for two goalies who both consider themselves to be the starter.
Peters did qualify that statement, noting the usual hectic early season travel schedule that sees the Hurricanes play two of their first eight games on the road in an attempt to avoid the hassles of playing at home during the North Carolina State Fair will require extensive use of both goalies. But the desire to have a No. 1 guy seems to conflict directly with the players at his disposal.
Peters, who has been nothing less than impressive in his limited interactions so far with the media and public, clearly gets the benefit of the doubt here. Almost every coach would prefer to have a No. 1 goalie who claims the job and runs with it. Making that statement before training camp begins is practically a reflex.
But this is a delicate situation, with some significant egos involved. Managing and massaging them is going to be one of Peters’ most difficult tasks this season. Ward even complained after last season about not being given enough playing time to work himself into shape, even at a time when Khudobin was the only thing keeping the Hurricanes within visual range of an unlikely playoff spot.
With training camp beginning Friday, the goaltending situation is the single biggest issue facing the Hurricanes, which is saying a lot for a team trying to break a five-year playoff drought. The Hurricanes desperately need Ward to recapture his form or Khudobin to take the next leap forward in his career. No matter what else Peters fixes or changes with the rest of the roster, the Hurricanes are going to need first-class goaltending to compete. Period.
If that means one guy playing 60 games, so be it. But it seems far more likely the two will end up battling for playing time based on their performance all season long.
In a best-case scenario, where both Ward and Khudobin play up to the limit of their talents, how do you settle on one as the No. 1 guy? It’s impossible.
If it’s Ward, Khudobin won’t be happy after his play last season earned him a two-year contract and, presumably, the right to go into camp as the nominal starter this season. If it’s Khudobin, that leaves $6.3 million of salary-cap space sitting on the bench while Ward’s trade value, already limited by that monstrous contract, is further diminished.
Still, it would be a good problem to have. If both play well, the Hurricanes will profit in the standings and sort the rest out later.
As much as Peters would like the matter to be settled in training camp, it’s hard to imagine it will be. Not then, and probably not for a long time.