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Backup Goalie Race Still Tight

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
For two players who have very little in common outside of the position they play, the choice between Manny Legace and Justin Peters as the Hurricanes’ backup goaltender has proven to be a difficult one.

Paul Branecky
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General Manager Jim Rutherford said recently that he is no closer to making that call now than he was at the end of the season. The topic is expected to be an important one at next week’s scouting meetings.

”We’re going to have to make a decision on the goalie,” said Rutherford. “There are a lot of factors that we have to weigh in, but it will be one of those two guys and we’ll have to decide soon.”

Before getting to their distinctions, it’s important to note one key similarity that has kept either player from emerging as a clear favorite – performance.  The statistics are nearly identical. Legace sports a 2.81 goals-against average to Peters’ 2.83, with save percentage telling the same story (Legace’s .907 vs. Peters’ .905).

Since analyzing the numbers doesn’t help, other factors come into play. Although the two goaltenders will never be confused for each other in terms of playing style, stature or personality, the main differences lie with age and experience. Legace, at 37 and at least nearing the end of his career, has amassed 365 games over a 10-year NHL stint as both a starter and a backup. Peters, on the other hand, is just getting started. He’ll only be 24 when the Hurricanes reconvene for training camp and made his debut just last season, playing nine games.

The first thing for the Hurricanes to consider will be the projected workload for next season’s backup. If the team expects entrenched starter Cam Ward to flirt with 70 games as he did in 2007-08 and 2008-09, having a developing player in Peters start around 12 times with an occasional relief appearance would not be ideal, making Legace the better option. Also, if Ward were to experience further injury issues, not necessarily with his back but in general, Legace would provide a long-term veteran solution.

However, Peters’ performance this past season cannot be ignored. In addition to earning an American Hockey League All-Star nod, Peters proved for the first time that he could be an effective NHL goalie at least in the short term, posting a 6-3-0 record with wins over offensive-minded Pittsburgh and Washington clubs.  Another full season at the AHL level wouldn’t hurt him by any means, but with 148 career appearances with Albany over the last four seasons, the last of which produced elite-level work, he could very well be ready to take the next step.

“It’s a matter of whether we want to go with a veteran guy and have Justin play more in Charlotte, or whether we feel it’s better to keep Justin moving forward,” said Rutherford.

If a consensus still cannot be reached after weighing the pros and cons, contracts could then come into play. Regardless of whether he starts the year in Raleigh or Charlotte, Peters will need to be re-signed as a restricted free agent. The same cannot be said of Legace, an unrestricted free agent who would move on to another team, perhaps in Russia, if the backup job goes to Peters. 

A new deal for Legace would likely be very similar to the inexpensive one-year, two-way deal he signed last season, which doesn’t present a large risk. However, when combined with the organizational logjam it would create with Peters, Justin Pogge and Mike Murphy all fighting for time in the AHL – one could then be loaned to another club outside of the Hurricanes’ sphere of influence – it may prove to be inconvenient.

”I don’t think (contracts) will be the determining factor, but they will factor into it,” said Rutherford.

Along with plans for the draft and the statuses of Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney, the situation will be one to watch closely in the coming weeks.

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