Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

The Carolina Hurricanes, more or less depending on who you ask, shocked the hockey world on Saturday, Dec. 16, placing netminder Antti Raanta on waivers. Unfortunately, the 34-year-old Finnish netminder is having one of the worst starts to a season in his career. However, not all blame is put on him, as the Hurricanes generally have struggled to start the 2023-24 season. After 14 games, he is carrying a 6-5-1 record with a 3.61 goals-against average (GAA) and a .854 save percentage (SV%). Throughout his career, Raanta has always had a .900 or better SV%, except for his rookie season, where he finished with a .897 back in 2013-14. After losing to the Nashville Predators 6-5 in overtime on Friday, Dec. 15, there seemed to be the sense that a change was possibly coming soon in the net for Carolina.

As mentioned before, on Dec. 16, the Hurricanes placed Raanta on waivers after losing to the Predators the night before. He has been with Carolina since the 2021-22 season after joining the team as a free agent. That season, he along with Frederik Andersen won the Jennings Trophy for being the goalie tandem to allow the least amount of goals during a season. The tandem throughout their tenure with Carolina have struggled to stay healthy and now the Hurricanes are looking to be without their duo going into the 2024 calendar year.

Related: Hurricanes’ Andersen & Raanta Set Sights on Another Jennings

Andersen has been dealing with blood clotting issues with no timetable to return to the Hurricanes. There are rumblings around the NHL that he might not be back this season. Now, with Raanta being put on waivers, the Hurricanes are in uncharted waters with their situation in the net. On Sunday, Dec. 17, they called up Yaniv Perets, who’s been playing with the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL. So far this season with the Admirals, Perets has a 5-5-1 record with a 2.38 GAA and a .916 SV%. Also, he has secured a shutout in 11 ECHL games. This move is most likely a short-term solution for the Hurricanes until they can bring in an NHL-caliber goalie to tandem with Kochetkov.

There have been rumblings of goalies that could be on the move around the league. Carolina will most certainly be making calls over the next few days to inquire about getting one of them. Here are three netminders that the Hurricanes should look into adding to the roster.

1. Karel Vejmelka

The first goalie that comes to mind is 27-year-old Arizona Coyotes netminder Karel Vejmelka. He has two years left on his current three-year, $8.175 million deal with the Coyotes. The cap hit on his current deal is $2.725 million per year, and he is set to become a free agent after the 2024-25 season. His contract is only taking up 3.34% of the cap and is only $725,000 more than Kochetkov’s contract. It’s a contract that Carolina could work with since both he and Kochetkov will only total $4.725 million towards the cap. Plus securing them both for this season and next year could give the team more flexibility when giving other guys extensions and going after other free agents.

Karel Vejmelka, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Plus, if Vejmelka works out, who is to say that they cannot extend him longer to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after Kochetkov’s contract ends? Both goalies are under 28 and Vejmelka could fit in well to stay long-term past his current deal.

Vejmelka’s record this season is 3-7-2 with a .899 SV% and a 3.21 GAA after 13 games played. To be fair to him, he has been with the Coyotes his whole career and has shown stretches of great play in Arizona. This season, he has made fewer starts due to the surge of Connor Ingram as his tandem partner. Throughout his time in Arizona, he has had an SV% of either .899 or .898 in his two-and-a-half seasons. Also, he does have a shutout this 2023-24 season.

Related: Vejmelka & Coyotes Aim for Big Season

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He could be the best option for Carolina when it comes to trading for a netminder. They have the trade capital that the Coyotes are always looking for, and a team that is known to take bad contracts. Plus, the Hurricanes have prospects that they could give up that might not even be in the top tier of their prospect pool. Ronan Seeley or even Alexander Pashin could be a couple of guys that Carolina might move to get Vejmelka. However, there could be a chance of an NHL defenseman that might be part of the deal as well.

The Coyotes have $4.46 million in cap space, so there is a chance to trade some cap to help both teams in a possible deal. Not saying it will happen, but the Hurricanes have two $4+ million contracts to figure out who will be UFAs after this season. Those could be contracts to possibly move if they want to make a move for Vejmelka. It is an interesting situation for Carolina especially when looking at getting an NHL-caliber goalie who’s currently on a tandem in Arizona.

2. Alex Lyon

This next goaltender might raise some eyebrows, but hear it out. Alex Lyon has been a solid netminder when given a chance in the NHL, even if it has not been much. The 31-year-old Minnesota native is having a decent 2023-24 season with the Detroit Red Wings. This season he has a 4-3-0 record with a 2.14 GAA and a .932 SV%. He is currently in a three-goalie rotation with Ville Husso and James Reimer. Lyon is the same goalie who in the 2022-23 season carried the Florida Panthers into the playoffs with seven straight wins to finish the regular season. He finished last season with a 9-4-2 record with a 2.89 GAA and a .912 SV% while getting those seven wins to finish it off.

Lyon has bounced around with the Philadelphia Flyers, Panthers, Red Wings, and even the Carolina Hurricanes organizations. He even played two games with the Hurricanes back in the 2012-22 season recording a 1-0-1 record.

Alex Lyon, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

His current cap hit with the Red Wings is only $900,000 per year on his current two-year, $1.8 million deal. That takes up only 1.08% of the Red Wings cap. Over his seven-year career, Lyon boasts a 20-14-5 record and a career .907 SV%. He is a solid netminder who has not been given a real shot to tandem a whole season. The most games that he has played in a season is 15 and that was with the Panthers during 2022-23.

Related: Detroit Red Wings Sign Alex Lyon to 2-Year Contract

Lyon just turned 31 eight days ago (Dec. 9), and his $900,000 could be a huge steal for the Hurricanes since he will be a UFA after the 2024-25 season. He has played with the Hurricanes before and could be given a chance to play with them again. Furthermore, he could get more ice time as well by being in a 1A/1B tandem alongside Kochetkov instead of being a three-goalie rotation. Carolina might not have to give up much in terms of assets to get a goalie in a crowded position with the Red Wings. To lock him Lyon and Kochetkov who combined will make $2.9 million over the next two seasons is a general manager’s dream to extend and bring in free agents with two goalies making under $2 million each a season.

It’s a low-risk, high-reward move if the Hurricanes can get Lyon from the Red Wings as long as Detroit doesn’t get too crazy with the asking price.

3. Elvis Merzlikins

The last goalie that the Hurricanes could take a look at is 29-year-old Columbus Blue Jackets netminder, Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins isn’t having a terrible season overall if you look past his 7-8-4 record and the 3.19 GAA. However, he does carry a .909 SV%, which is promising if you’re Carolina. Every time the Hurricanes play against him he always gives them a hard time. Back on Nov. 26, he essentially held the Hurricanes scoreless for over 40 minutes before Carolina came back and won the game 3-2. That is one of those games where Merzlikins did everything he could to get the win for the Blue Jackets. Over his five seasons with Columbus, he has been with some not-so-great teams, but he does have a winning record back in 2021-22, when he went 27-23-7 with a .907 SV% and a 3.22 GAA. There has been talk that if Merzlikins was on a really good team, his numbers could be exponentially better.

The Latvian netminder has all the intangibles to be an elite number-one goalie on a contending team. It seems to be time for a team, especially the Hurricanes, to work out a deal to have Elvis leave the building in Columbus.

Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His current five-year, $27 million deal with the Blue Jackets carries a cap hit of $5.4 million per season. However, it does have a clause on the deal that includes a modified 10-team no-trade list (M-NTC). It is not certain if the Hurricanes are one of those teams on the M-NTC, but Brent Burns waived his NTC to come to Carolina before the 2022-23 season. So there is a chance that if they somehow are, Merzlikins could waive it as well.

Related: Blue Jackets’ Merzlikins Leaning on Fun While Regaining His Form

His contract’s cap hit only takes up 6.63% of Columbus’ cap, which has $4.701 million of free space. If the Hurricanes make a move for Merzlikins, that could give them a very talented tandem that will have both goalies under 29 years old with lots of team control through the 2026-27 season. Both Merzlikins and Kochetkov will be UFAs after 2026-27 so Carolina might have a chance to not worry about their goalie situation until the summer of 2027. While Vejmelka and Lyon might give Carolina the path of least resistance to acquiring them, Merzlikins could give them the best shot to have the best goalie tandem for the next three-plus seasons.

Columbus is a team that will not make the playoffs and could be willing to trade him for draft capital along with possibly a combination of prospects and rental contracts from Carolina. If there is one guy the Hurricanes could go after for a long-term solution in the net, Merzlikins could be that guy.

Decisions, Decisions

Outside of these three netminders, there are a lot of paths that the Carolina Hurricanes could take when it comes to figuring out their goalie situation. Andersen is still out for the foreseeable future with no timetable to return, which could force Carolina to think long-term instead of waiting for him to come back. Especially with the Raanta news on being put on waivers, having Perets on the team is not the situation the team wants to be in for the rest of the 2023-24 season. The Hurricanes need to make a decision soon. There are a good number of goalies that they could inquire about, but these three could give them a chance to help in the long- and short-term in the position.

It all comes down to what general manager Don Waddell and the Hurricanes front office is willing to do. It will be an interesting couple of weeks as the Hurricanes will have to weather this storm with the uncertainty in the net. The waters might be choppy, but they will right the ship and come out of the storm and into brighter skies.

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