First thing’s first: in his first year as a Carolina Hurricane, goalie Frederik Andersen has been marvelous.
He is tied with Tampa Bay Lightning star Andrei Vasilevskiy for wins, with 29 victories in 38 games. His save percentage (.930) is second only to New York Rangers star Igor Shesterkin (.941) among No.1 netminders. His goals-against average of 2.03 is also second only to Shesterkin (1.95). He’s got three shutouts. By any metric, Andersen has been a smash hit with the ‘Canes.
However, let’s not pretend Andersen was especially coveted in the off-season, before he signed a two-year, $9-million contract with Carolina. Indeed, he had to take a slight pay cut from the five-year, $5-million-per season deal he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016. He wasn’t the main reason the Leafs failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, but he also wasn’t stealing games for Toronto, the way many first-rate goalies do.
And, slowly but surely, he lost the confidence of Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe. As soon as Jack Campbell came on the scene and played well, it was but a matter of time before the Buds cut ties with Andersen.
Really, can you fault them? Granted, Andersen was playing for a Leafs team that doesn’t have the skilled, deep group of blueliners the Hurricanes have. But he still struggled in his final season as a Leaf, posting a 2.98 G.A.A. and an .895 SP in 24 games. With Campbell’s relatively meager $1.65 million salary and the Leafs up tight against the salary cap ceiling, there was no way Toronto was going to spend anywhere near the $5 million Andersen earned last season.
Instead, Dubas signed unrestricted free agent Petr Mrazek to a three-year, $11.4-million contract. The Leafs may come to regret the term of that contract, but there was simply no way they were going to bring back Andersen. It was time for both parties to move on, and that’s what happened.
Now, Andersen is in a market where the pressure for positive results is nowhere close to what it is in Toronto. This is not to say there aren’t significant expectations in Carolina. The Hurricanes’ owner, Tom Dundon, is one of the NHL’s most openly passionate movers and shakers, and he wants a second Stanley Cup for the franchise as soon as possible.
But the sheer number of media members in Leafs Land, and the intensity of hockey fans in Toronto make life as a Leaf a totally different experience. Some players thrive under it, and some players prefer to play elsewhere. By the end of last season, it was clear Andersen needed a new start with a different organization.
That’s what Andersen has been given by the Hurricanes, and this season, he has played like he intends to stick around after his contract expires at the end of next year. At age 32, he has to know his window to win it all is not going to be open for a long time. And clearly, the Canes believe in him in a way the Leafs no longer did. That extra psychological motivation can only help him and his team.
Before he lost his job to Campbell last season, Andersen had put up solid numbers in the playoffs for Toronto. In five games of the 2020 post-season, he posted a 1.84 G.A.A. and a .936 SP. But ultimately, he could not lead the Leafs to a first-round win, and Dubas couldn’t keep going back to him to see if he could improve. There had to be a change, and Andersen knew it.
In Carolina, Andersen looks as confident as he ever has. But the big test for him will come in the playoffs, where the Hurricanes almost certainly have home-ice advantage, and be one of the odds-on favorites to make a deep playoff run. If he lets in a soft goal or two, it could cripple the Canes’ championship aspirations. Andersen has redeemed himself through the first two-thirds of this season, but the true bar he needs to clear won’t appear until the post-season begins.