After an injury plagued 2013-14 season, Cam Ward has Anton Khudobin breathing down his neck for the starter’s job in Carolina.
Ward, 30, suffered a season-ending knee injury in March 2013, however, his problems continued into the 2013-14 season.
Ward went 10-12-6 last season, his ninth with the ‘Canes, while posting an ugly 3.06 GAA and an .898 save percentage as Carolina missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and seventh time in eight seasons.
Ward’s struggles along with the inconsistent play of others, led former general manager Jim Rutherford to call the ‘Canes “the most frustrating team to watch in a long time” during an interview in April.
In Ward’s absence last season, the Hurricanes were able to audition a pair of goaltenders — including Anton Khudobin.
Khudobin, 28, appeared in all 14 games for the ‘Canes in January going 10-4-0 with a 2.19 GAA and a .927 save percentage earning himself one of the month’s three stars.
“It’s hard to say what was more important, if Ward’s injury or my game,” Khuhobin said this week. “But probably my game, because even if Ward wouldn’t get injured and I wouldn’t play that way, they wouldn’t play me that often.”
Originally a seventh-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in 2004, Khudobin helped Carolina move into third place in the Metropolitan division.
Khudobin signed a new two-year deal in Carolina in March.
The Kazakhstan native along with Justin Peters saw time in a Hurricanes uniform last season. However, Peters signed with the Washington Capitals.
Khudobin’s deal puts pressure on Ward, who has already had his name dragged through the rumor mill ahead of the March 2014 trade deadline.
Those rumors won’t go away regardless of how Ward plays this season.
He is due $6.7 million this season and then $6.8 million in 2015-16. With Khudobin locked up through 2015-16 as well at a considerably lower cap hit of $2.25 million, the writing is on the wall.
Here’s a look at the duo’s contract situation via CapGeek:
According to rookie general manager, Ron Francis, the plan is to split duties between Khudobin and Ward in 2014-15. Francis has to hope Ward, who is due over $12 million, can regain his form, which helped him win the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy in 2006.
Trading Ward will be a tall task for Francis as a result of the aforementioned money remaining. However, you’d have to believe Ward is likely to return more via trade this season, with one year left, than as a pending unrestricted free-agent. Carolina would likely have to eat salary on any trade involving Ward.
With Drew MacIntyre next on the depth chart behind Khudobin and Ward, a budding goaltending prospect or proven veteran would need to be a part of the package for Ward to give Khudobin a reliable backup.
As for what’s behind MacIntyre, a career minor leaguer, with one career NHL start on his resume, the ‘Canes have 20-year-old Daniel Altshuller and 18-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic
Altshuller, the ‘Canes 2012 third-round pick, is likely to turn pro in Charlotte this season while Nedeljkovic, Carolina’s second-round pick from June, is likely to spend 2014-15 in the OHL.
Related: It’s Carolina Hurricanes day on PHT