RALEIGH, N.C.—When Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell went shopping for free agents over the summer, he made a very important decision: not to be swayed by how a player performed in the NHL’s pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season.
“What happened last year probably was a little bit abnormal for a lot of guys,” Waddell told the Star. “You don’t know every situation that they were in and everything else. So the players that we were targeting got pretty much a pass.”
The Canes — who will host the Maple Leafs on Monday night — looked beyond a weird season for everybody. That was one of the key reasons why the Hurricanes landed goalie Frederik Andersen after a particularly hard year in Toronto.
Andersen had the worst season of his five as a Leaf, with injuries a big factor. He lost his job to Jack Campbell because of them.
“The pandemic was tough on everyone, but I think that that year was extremely difficult for me personally,” said Andersen, who had career worsts in goals-against average (2.96) and save percentage (.895).
His career resumé, however, is impressive: 230 wins vs. 100 losses and 48 loser points, with a 2.64 average and .916 save mark.
“I know it wasn’t a great year for him, but if you look at how he played over the last four or five years you get a lot of good things coming out of that,” said Waddell. “We just felt he was a good fit with our defence, with our team, the way we played.”
And he’s six-foot-four and 238 pounds in a league that increasingly values big goaltenders. Waddell’s Canes lost in the second round of the playoffs last year to Tampa Bay with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, six-foot-three and 225 pounds. Robin Lehner of the Golden Knights and Anthony Stolarz of the Ducks are the only netminders who weigh more than Andersen.
“We love the size,” said Waddell. “We haven’t had big goalies in the past. So we noticed that last year, we played Tampa in the second round, their goalie is a monster. So we made a decision early this summer as a team that we were going to make changes, try to do something different with our goaltending.
“We had a lot of guys on the list — not only free agents, but through trades. But at the end of the day, we felt Freddie was one of our best (options) and that’s why we went that direction.”
The Canes also signed Antti Raanta to back up Andersen. The Leafs would go on to sign Petr Mrázek, who played for Carolina last season, to form a tandem with Campbell. Mrázek is out with a groin injury, but travelling on this trip.
So, Monday’s night’s game could well be billed as a grudge match for Andersen against Campbell and his old team. After all, Andersen seemed to be painted as the villain in the Amazon series “All or Nothing” — the subject of a shouting match between coach Sheldon Keefe and goalie coach Steve Briere, and his health status questioned at one point by assistant coach Doug MacLean.
“I feel like shows like that would tend to play a little bit on the drama and then over-exaggerate that stuff a little bit,” said Andersen. “I don’t think there was any (acrimony) on my end. I was doing what I could to get healthy. It was a frustrating period for me personally, not being able to figure out what was wrong.”
Healthy now and off to a good start in Carolina, he’s too nice a guy to say he’s holding a grudge.
“You play them as hard as you can and hopefully it plays out,” the goalie said. “But I think overall, I enjoyed my time there.
“It’s an amazing city with amazing people. I have a lot of friendships that I made there and that I’m going to cherish for a long time. We had some success, but not obviously the ultimate success.”
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