The Carolina Hurricanes struggled last season to stop the puck, with newcomer Scott Darling posting an .888 save percentage despite his previous career total of .923. When Cam Ward moved on to the Chicago Blackhawks in free agency this summer, the Hurricanes brought in Petr Mrazek to battle with Darling and potentially give the team a bounce-back tandem of sorts. Instead, Darling suffered an injury in training camp and still has no timetable for his return. In the meantime the Hurricanes claimed Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs and have given him two starts already.
McElhinney, 35, has found a fountain of youth the last few seasons and looks as sharp as ever in net for the Hurricanes in the early going. The journeyman goaltender is 2-0 with a .930 save percentage and is starting to turn heads as a possible starting option for the entire season. On the latest edition of Insider Trading on TSN, panelist Pierre LeBrun spoke about how the Hurricanes saw that opportunity in McElhinney even before the Darling injury and may have claimed him regardless. The team may decide to carry three goaltenders for a while when Darling is back, meaning expectant Maple Leafs fans would not get a chance to reclaim their former backup.
The Hurricanes are by no means a cap ceiling team, as they currently sit near the very bottom of the league in salary commitments for this season. Mrazek, who has not looked sharp through his two starts and has struggled in recent seasons, is earning $1.5MM and could be expendable if the team decides to keep McElhinney around. It’s tough to imagine any other team taking a shot at Mrazek on waivers given his salary and play so far, meaning the Hurricanes could likely sneak him through into the minor leagues for some added depth. Regardless, the team will ride the hot hand for the time being and hope that McElhinney still has enough in his tank to keep them on their winning streak. Carolina is first in the NHL with seven points in their first four games, and a near-perfect 3-0-1 record.