Hurricanes questions in goal remain following coachs outburst

Bill Peters and Eddie Lack seemingly resolved their differences, but Carolinas future in net up in the air

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Eddie Lack practices during training camp in September. The Hurricanes have ranked in the bottom half of the NHL in goals-against average the past two seasons despite ranking in the top 10 in shot suppression.

RALEIGH — Winning solves everything, and Eddie Lack’s 24-save performance Sunday in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2-1 rematch win in Arizona seemingly eased the tension between the goaltender and his coach, Bill Peters.Peters followed up his outburst at Friday’s morning skate — where he said Lack was “not good enough” in a 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay and closed with a not-suited-for-work sendoff — by defending his comments later following Carolina’s loss to the Coyotes that night.Asked if he regretted his harsh comments on Lack, Peters doubled down by saying, “No, that’s just being honest. … I can’t just give people stuff for free in pro sports, that’s not how it works.”But after the two talked before the team’s flight to Arizona on Saturday, Peters went back to Lack in the rematch Sunday and the 29-year-old goalie responded in helping Carolina snap a four-game slide.Even if the talk and the subsequent win mended fences between Peters and Lack, one victory does not solve the overarching goalkeeping problems in Raleigh.After starting his career with four straight seasons of more wins than losses (combining both regulation and overtime/shootout defeats), veteran Cam Ward has done that just once (2010-11, 37-26-10) in the last seven seasons, with this year all but guaranteed to end the same way.Not all of those losses rest on Ward’s shoulders, but it’s not hard to look at his career stat line and see a goaltender who has underperformed compared to his peers.Still, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis — who looked prepared to part ways with Ward early in his tenure running the team — went back to Ward this offseason, giving him a two-year contract extension amid a goalie market that offered as many questions as answers.It’s fair to assume the initial plan was for Lack to assume the role of No. 1 goalie this season. Francis and the Carolina brass had high enough hopes for Lack that he was given a two-year extension of his own on Oct. 3, 2015 — just 14 weeks after the offseason trade that brought him and the remaining year of his contract to Raleigh — before he ever played a regular season game for the franchise.Lack’s up-and-down 2015-16 — 12-14-6, .901 save percentage, 2.81 goals-against average — left plenty of doubt that he was ready to be the team’s top goalie, and Francis decided it was better to go with the goalie he knew rather than one he didn’t on the market, giving Ward a new contract.What that did was tie the Hurricanes to both Ward, 33, and Lack for not just this season — which saw Ward start slow, heat up, then stumble down the stretch with a sub-.900 save percentage since the calendar flipped to 2017, while Lack battled with concussions — but also next year. Ward will make $3.1 million and Lack $3 million in salary next year, and their cap hit will cost the team a combined $6.05 million.Francis said the expansion draft, where the incoming Vegas Golden Knights will be allowed to select one player from each current NHL team, could force the Hurricanes’ hand in addressing the goaltending, and he didn’t rule out making changes in goal this offseason.”I think there’s a lot of areas we look at,” he said following the March 1 trade deadline. “Certainly that’s one we would look at again.”Like last offseason, the options seem limited.Ben Bishop, the 6-foot-7 goalie just dealt from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles, will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but he will be looking to break the bank (think $6-7 million a year for five years or more) and will be 31 in November.Is he worth the risk? Since joining the Lightning, Bishop has three 35-win seasons and has hovered around a .920 save percentage. He’s also battled some injuries and was traded by the Lightning because they had a younger option in 22-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy. But beyond Bishop the pickings are slim.The Calgary tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are both unrestricted free agents, but neither offers guaranteed improvement. Chicago’s Scott Darling could be a cheaper, shorter-term option that pays dividends, but the 6-foot-6 goalie hasn’t proven he can handle a No. 1’s workload.Last year Francis decided to stick with the guy he knew in Ward, and that decision has yielded similar results to recent playoff-less years.Could a more reliable Lack spell Ward enough in 2017-18 to made the tandem good enough to compete for a playoff spot? History says no, and if Francis wants to turn around the franchise there’s only one answer: winning solves everything.