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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes have a deep team, but injuries in the crease plagued them last year. If the Hurricanes are going far this year, they'll need Frederik Andersen to stay healthy, at the very least.
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We’re back with the latest edition of The THN Hot Seat, a continuing series of THN.com columns in which we identify one member of ever NHL team who’ll be faced with a ton of pressure in the 2022-23 season. The nominee may be an NHL player, coach, or team owner. In today’s file, we’re examining the Carolina Hurricanes.

HURRICANES HOT SEAT: FREDERIK ANDERSEN, GOALTENDER

WHY: In his first season as a Hurricane last year, Andersen had a terrific regular season, posting a 35-14-3 record, a 2.17 Goals-Against Average and a .922 Save Percentage in 52 appearances. That’s exactly what Carolina wanted from him when they signed him to a two-year, $9-million contract last summer. Unfortunately, the end to Andersen’s season came after he suffered a knee injury in mid-April, one that kept him out of the lineup throughout the playoffs.

Obviously, you can’t fault a player for being sidelined by an injury. But the fact remains that, in his eight career NHL post-season runs, he’s only gotten out of the first round once, and that was back in 2014-15 with Anaheim. In addition, Andersen hasn’t played a single playoff game in the past two seasons – one with Toronto, in which he had the No. 1 job taken from him by Jack Campbell, and last season, with Carolina.

Now, the Hurricanes managed to make it to the second round, and one win within a Conference Final appearance, thanks to the performance of backup netminder Antti Raanta. But Raanta is one year older than the 32-year-old Andersen, and Carolina coaches and management can’t be expected to lean on Raanta for an entire regular season and then the playoffs. They need Andersen to carry the bulk of the load, and be in prime physical condition come mid-April next year.

The ‘Canes losing star forward and new acquisition Max Pacioretty for the next six months due to an injury underscores how important defense will be for the franchise. Although Carolina still has a potent offense without Pacioretty in the lineup, savvy play in their zone will take pressure off their offense-minded skaters.

That brings us back to Andersen. If he can’t return to the form he showed last season, or even worse, is injured again, the Hurricanes will have his $4.5 million in salary cap space, but finding an elite goalie is another story altogether. A retread like longtime Carolina netminder and current Chicago Blackhawk Petr Mrazek would be available, but Hurricanes fans likely want no part of it – and the way Mrazek played in a calamitous first season in Toronto, ‘Canes management should want no part of him, either. It will be a huge challenge for GM Don Waddell to find an average-or-above-average goalie if things go awry with Andersen, which is why there’s so much heat on Andersen entering the new season.

Andersen needs a big year, not just for his team’s sake, but for him personally. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023-24, and if his body breaks down on him again, teams will be reticent to offer him as much as he’s earning this year, let alone a significant raise. It certainly felt last year that there was an epidemic of goalie injuries. While certain teams have insurance policies in the form of solid backups, all the good Carolina will likely do at forward and on defense could be undone if Andersen cannot compete for long stretches of time. He’s got the benefit of playing behind an elite defense corps that has added veteran Brent Burns, but Andersen has to hold up his end of the deal.

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