RALEIGH — On July 22, 2021, the day before that summer’s NHL Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes traded goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings for a third round pick and the rights to negotiate with pending free agent Jonathan Bernier.
The outrage over trading the drafted-and-developed Nedeljkovic, who helped lead Carolina’s AHL team to a championship two seasons before and had just finished third in Calder Trophy voting as the NHL’s top rookie, only grew when Bernier and the Hurricanes couldn’t come to an agreement.
With Petr Mrazek and James Reimer both headed toward free agency, the Hurricanes were suddenly a contender without a goalie — literally zero goalies.
Which makes where things stand now, just 18 months later, even more impressive.
With two games remaining before a nine-day stretch without a game for the All-Star break and five-day schedule break, the Hurricanes are 32-9-8 and coming off a dominant win over the Bruins — the only team ahead of them in the NHL standings.
Those 32 wins are broken up as such among their goalies: Antti Raanta (12), Frederik Andersen (10) and Pyotr Kochetkov (10). No matter who has been in net for Carolina, one thing seems certain: The Hurricanes are going to win way more often than they lose.
“Koochie went on that run and Freddie coming back has been incredible and Raants’ just been kind of steady the whole year,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Martinook said of the team’s three goalies. “I don’t know what else you can really say about them. They’ve been consistent and given us a chance every night, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Andersen started the season as the team’s No. 1 goalie and — after a two-month absence due to an injury — has reestablished himself as Carolina’s top netminder. Heading into Tuesday’s home game against the Kings, Andersen was 5-0-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in January.
Before Andersen’s current stretch, it was Kochetkov who had put together the most impressive string of games.
The 23-year-old goalie went on an 8-0-2 run while Andersen was out injured, earning a four-year contract extension and the label of “goalie of the future.” In all, Kochetkov — who was reassigned to AHL Chicago when Andersen was healthy enough to return — is 10-4-5 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
And then there’s Raanta, often the forgotten masked man, quietly assembling a solid season. While his numbers don’t jump off the page (2.55 goals-against average, .897 save percentage), the 33-year-old is 12-2-3, including 10-0-2 since his last regulation loss on Nov. 12.
Raanta also has just one blemish at home, an overtime loss to Colorado on Nov. 17, and is 7-0-1 this season in Raleigh. Including the playoffs, Raanta is 23-4-2 with a 2.10 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and five shutouts at PNC Arena in his 10-year NHL career.
The Hurricanes have proven they can have success with any of the three in net, even if Andersen is carrying the load right now. Through 49 games, Carolina has allowed 129 goals (2.63 per game), the third fewest behind Boston (106 in 50 games, 2.12) and the Rangers (127 (2.59).
“When Kooch was here he played really well,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Tuesday. “He got a little injury and kind of tailed off a tad, then these guys got healthy. Freddie’s been good when he’s been in the net, and Rants, you look at his body of work, he’s been pretty good too.”
Most importantly, the Hurricanes are confident regardless of who gets the call in net on any given night.
“I think if you ask anybody in this room, if you put any one of those three guys in the net, we’re gonna be comfortable with whoever’s in there,” Martinook added. “It’s definitely a nice thing to have when you’ve got three you can pick from. Obviously Koochie’s down in Chicago right now, but if something ever happens to one of these two, he’s right there.
“Just hopefully they’ll stay healthy and keep this thing rolling.”