The Carolina Hurricanes continued the culture overhaul in their room on Sunday as they signed free agent goalie, Petr Mrazek to a one-year deal.
This decision, coupled with Cam Ward‘s signing in Chicago, means that Scott Darling and Mrazek will be the two netminders of choice for the Canes next season, at least to start.
While many fans, and even some members of the media seem upset with the transition, as the old Sheryl Crow song goes, “A Change Will Do You Good“.
The Blackhawks should be a perfect team for Ward to be a part of as he is designated to be Corey Crawford‘s backup. Perhaps the change of scenery alone will help to jump start Ward’s save percentage which has been stagnant for at least the past three years, (.906, .905, .909).
A more experienced defensive group and coaching staff probably won’t hurt him either.
Ward’s departure means that his omnipotent aura, even as an intended backup goalie, will now be out of the Carolina locker room. If the organization truly wanted a culture change, this needed to happen.
Carolina’s two present netminders are both coming off disappointing seasons and need a fresh start as well.
It is funny how things work out. Last year, Darling was expected to be the most wanted goaltender to hit the free agent market, except he never made it to free agency. Ron Francis traded for his rights at the end of April.
At the time, it was heralded as a good move. All that needed to come next was a long-term contract.
As it turned out, trading a third round pick for Darling’s rights probably ended up making Francis overpay.
The Carolina GM certainly couldn’t afford to walk away without signing the goalie and then end up wasting a pick, so eventually came the four-year deal at just north of four million per.
We all know what happened next as Darling’s first year performance turned out to be less than expected.
Mrazek is another goalie looking for a rebound.
Three years ago, he was one of the most sought after young goalies in the league as he led the Detroit Red Wings to the playoffs with a 27-16-6 record and a .921 save percentage.
The following season his save percentage plummeted to .901. Last year he was at .910 until the Wings traded him to the Flyers and his performance again dropped off considerably. He finished the year at .902.
The Canes are rolling the dice that at least one of these guys can figure it out and turn things around.
They were both good players previously though and they were both successful before, so there is no reason why they cannot be again.
The Carolina brass has been stating over and over again that Darling was out of condition last season. He has been working very hard this summer to give himself the best possible chance for success this coming season.
But perhaps more importantly, the goalie position relies on a strong mental game as well. Both goalies need to be able to push the negativity and problems from last year behind them. Brind’Amour should be able to help them do that.
Other goalies have been able to turn around after similar struggles.
In 2012-13, Carey Price floundered with a .905 save percentage. The next four seasons he went .927, .933, .934, and .923.
Also in 2012-13, Jonathan Quick dropped to a .902 save percentage. He rebounded with a .915 percentage the next season, followed by .918, .918, and .917.
Once again in 2012-13, (that must have been a bad year for goalies), Roberto Luongo finished with a .907 save percentage. The next season he ended up at .919, then .924 and so on.
The point being that having a bad season or two does not define a career.
The book has yet to be written on Darling and Mrazek and it is up to them to determine what comes next.
It will certainly be different without Ward in the dressing room and in the Carolina crease but perhaps he should have never been re-signed two years ago.
New owner Tom Dundon might finally be sending a needed message.
Players who continually have mediocre (or worse) seasons leading to the team not making it to the playoffs repeatedly, will not automatically have their contracts renewed.
Ward is not the only Hurricane with an expiring contract from last season who was not offered a contract extension.
There is a culture change in more ways than one in Carolina.