Under Pressure: Cam Ward

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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 missed 10 games to start November 2013 with a lower body injury then in December, the Saskatchewan native again suffered a lower body injury forcing him to miss more than a month of action.

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:

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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

Gaborik unlikely to be ready for start of training camp

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Marian Gaborik‘s recovery from a non-surgical procedure to address his “chronic” knee issue will likely bleed into training camp.

“He’s progressing pretty well from the summer,” Kings GM Rob Blake told LA Kings Insider. “He still has some difficulty with some of the lifts and the strength. We’re probably not sure if we’ll see him in training camp right away, but again, he’s a guy that trains at a very high level and he’s made a commitment to stay in L.A. after he got married, get the rehab back on course. We’re hopeful he can get back to the level that he started last season and the World Cup at.”

Gaborik has been an elite scorer at times during his career, but injuries have been a recurring issue for him. Over the past four seasons he’s played in 220 of a possible 328 contests and he’s been limited to 43 points in 110 games over the last two campaigns.

That’s particularly worrying given that the 35-year-old forward still has four seasons left on his seven-year contract worth roughly $34 million. At the same time a bounce back campaign out of Gaborik would go a long way towards addressing the offensive woes Los Angeles endured in 2016-17.

Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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This post is a part of Islanders day at PHT…

No goaltender went through a season that could be more accurately called a roller coaster than Jaroslav Halak.

The veteran netminder entered the campaign immediately following a superb showing in the World Cup, but he struggled in the first half of the season to the point where he cleared waivers and was then sent to the minors on Dec. 31. Rather than fade away though, he got a second wind in the AHL. That led to him being called up on March 23 and shining in the finals weeks of the campaign.

So after all that, what’s next for Halak? Will he excel like he did towards the end of the season, struggle like he did at the beginning, or end up being wildly inconsistent yet again?

He’s down to the final season of his four-year, $18 million deal and Thomas Greiss has emerged as a strong alternative for the starting gig with the Islanders. Greiss is entering the first season of a three-year, $10 million deal, so he is more firmly established as part of the Islanders’ plan than Halak, but Greiss’ contract isn’t so expensive or long-term that the Islanders can’t re-sign Halak too if the situation calls for it. Especially if Halak were to step up and become a major part of guiding the Islanders back into the postseason after their disappointing 2016-17 showing.

What the presence of Greiss does though is give Halak little leeway in order to reestablish himself as that type of goaltender. If Halak even has a bad October, he might find himself set more clearly in the backup role beyond that.

Perhaps the Islanders are looking to Greiss as their future though and have little interest in Halak beyond this season. Maybe they would prefer a younger and/or cheaper pairing with Greiss once given the flexibility that Halak’s contract expiring affords them. Even in that scenario, this would still be a critical season for Halak as he’ll need a strong showing in order for him to find a gig elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the entire league said they didn’t want his contract and while he’s bounced back since then, he still needs to prove this season that he’s worth a new deal.

The goaltender market is always a tough one, especially for those seeking a starting job, but for a great netminder that’s a nonissue. Halak has played at that level at various points of his career. He needs more than ever to be that goaltender again.

Gallant thinks Golden Knights can ‘win and compete consistently’ during inaugural season

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What can we expect from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18? No one really knows what they’ll look like once they hit the ice because they’ve never played together before.

Of course, the expectation is that they’ll be bad, which is fair considering the track record expansion teams have in pro sports. But are they gonna be “Colorado bad” or will they be able to hold their own more often than not?

“I knew we were going to have a pretty decent team, but the team was better than I thought,” head coach Gerard Gallant said, per NHL.com. “I thought we got better top-end players than I thought we’d get.

“So I think we did a real good job building our team. Is it good enough to win and compete consistently? I think it is.”

Through the expansion draft, Gallant’s team was able to find themselves a quality number one goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and a relatively young backup in Calvin Pickard.

After parting ways with defensemen like Alexei Emelin and Marc Methot, the Golden Knights are left with solid options like Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, and veterans like Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa and Brayden McNabb. That’s a decent group for an expansion side.

Up front is where things get a little more complicated. They signed Russian free agent Vadim Shipachyov and picked James Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith during the expansion draft, but they’re also light on scoring depth.

“There’s going to be issues,” added the Golden Knights head coach. “Some nights we’re going to have trouble scoring goals. You look at our roster, there’s a lot of good players. Are there any superstars there?”

It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas’ first year in the NHL will unfold under Gallant and general manager George McPhee’s watch.

Poll: Will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Is this going to be the last year we see John Tavares in a New York Islanders uniform?

That will likely be the question that surrounds the Islanders as long as Tavares is around and he hasn’t signed a long-term extension with the only club he’s ever played for.

The Tampa Bay Lightning went through this a couple of years ago with Steven Stamkos. In the end, the sniper opted to remain with the club that drafted him. Will Tavares do the same thing? Only time will tell. But what happens if Tavares doesn’t sign before the trade deadline?

The Bolts had to chose between keeping Stamkos for a playoff push and risk losing him for nothing, or trading him for a few assets to make sure they got something to show for him. The situation worked out well for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

Players like Tavares rarely make it to free agency, which is why it could be tempting for him to wait until July 1st to see what he could fetch on the open market.

The 26-year-old holds all the cards. He’s already said that he’s in no hurry to sign a new contract extension.

“For me, there’s really no rush,” Tavares told Newsday last week. “I’m trying to determine things, let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal and it’s been good so far . . . In terms of signing a new contract, there’s a lot that goes into it. To really dive into all the details, get into all the conversations I’ve had with Garth [Snow], the team and Doug [Weight], I don’t think it’s productive to the situation and the negotiating. I prefer to keep it all internal, that’s the best way to keep it all open, honest and healthy.”

Since he joined the Islanders as an 18-year-old in 2009-10, he hasn’t exactly been surrounded by incredible talent. Sure, New York has had some quality players on their roster, but they’ve always leaned heavily on Tavares.

This summer, they traded away inconsistent forward Ryan Strome to the Oilers for proven scorer Jordan Eberle, who could see some time on Tavares’ wing. Will it be enough to convince him to stay?

The biggest difference between the Tavares/Stamkos situation, is that Stamkos expected to Lightning to be very competitive over the next few years (yes, they missed the playoffs this year, but the future still looks bright). Can the Islanders superstar expect the same from his organization?

Many have already speculated that he could decide to sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though the Leafs have plenty of talented forwards on their roster, they could still benefit from having a guy like no. 91 around.

Will he stay or will he go? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below. Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.