The Carolina Hurricanes weren’t comfortable making a major financial commitment to a sensational rookie. Instead, they’re spending what is supposed to be safer money on established veteran goaltenders. But is the investment really safer when those goaltenders are Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta?
Andersen, 31, has inked a two-year, $9-million contract with the Hurricanes, as first reported by The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun. A year or two ago, the idea of a Stanley Cup contender pursuing Andersen would’ve made plenty of sense. From 2016-17, his first season as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ starting netminder, through 2019-20, Andersen was the NHL’s No. 1 workhorse, leading all goaltenders in starts and placing third in wins while posting a respectable .916 save percentage on a team that, at the time, was known for extremely leaky defensive play. Fair or not, Andersen carried a reputation of underwhelming in the post-season, but he was undeniably an upper-echelon regular-season netminder over that span. He finished fourth in the 2017-18 Vezina Trophy vote.
Andersen sagged in 2020-21, however, despite the fact the Leafs improved their defensive play dramatically. Among 43 netminders who played at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, Andersen actually graded out slightly above average, sitting 23rd at 0.07, but that doesn’t tell the full story. The bottom fell out in March. He went 2-5-0 with an .876 SP and posted a -0.47 GSAA/60 for the month. He ended up missing a 23-game stretch with a knee injury and ceding Toronto’s net to Jack Campbell by the time the playoffs rolled around.
If you’re a glass-half-empty Hurricanes fan, then? Pushing the chips in on Andersen at a starter’s AAV of $4.5 million rather than paying Alex Nedeljkovic his requested AAV of $3.5 million feels like a strange decision for GM Don Waddell. The Canes are obviously banking on Andersen returning to form when healthy, and playing in a less smothering hockey market might work nicely for a goaltender known to have the occasional crisis of confidence. Even at his best, however, Andersen never gave Toronto a smooth ride. He regularly mixed scintillating hot streaks with hideous slumps. He posted a .914 SP across five seasons and 268 games as a Leaf, but that included 10 months with an SP below .900 and eight months with an SP above .930.
As for Raanta? The good news is his performance is arguably less in doubt on a year-to-year basis than Andersen's is. Raanta, 32, owned a .921 SP across his four seasons with the Arizona Coyotes and, over the past three campaigns combined, placed in the 71st percentile in GSAA/60 among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5. Raanta, however, is also among the most injury-prone goaltenders in the sport. His career high in starts is 46, and he's only eclipsed 26 starts twice in his eight seasons. In 2020-21 alone, he endured five different injury layoffs. That was in a 56-game season. Raanta is a talented goaltender but profiles as the opposite of safe. That's likely why he settled for a one-year contract at a backup AAV of $2 million, as reported by ESPN's Kevin Weekes.
Yet the Hurricanes are entrusting their net to Andersen and Raanta rather than Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and, most notably, Nedeljkovic, who, as a rookie in 2020-21 , posted the second best GSAA/60 in the league, trailing only Nashville’s Juuse Saros, and finished third in the Calder Trophy vote. After trading Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings last week for the rights to pending UFA Jonathan Bernier and a third-round draft pick, GM Don Waddell told The Athletic’s Sara Civian that the team wanted to go in a “veteran direction” as a win-now club. Andersen and Raanta supposedly check that box. Given the injury problems they've had to endure, are they really superior win-now options to Nedeljkovic, who posted a .932 SP in the regular season and a .920 SP across nine appearances in his playoff debut this past spring?
The Hurricanes believe they’ve made the right play and the safe play. The irony here? What they’re doing is gambling. The rookie was arguably the safer play. That doesn’t mean Andersen and Raanta can’t pay off and make Waddell look wise, however. It's a matter of whether their bodies will co-operate.