The Hurricanes signed goaltender Anton Khudobin and defenseman Mike Komisarek in the first few hours of the unrestricted free agent period on Friday afternoon, while goaltender Dan Ellis departed to join the Dallas Stars.
As always, the moves will have a ripple effect that will reach the team’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte, particularly those in goal.
The one-way signing of Khudobin, a 27-year-old who posted a 2.32 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 14 games as the Boston Bruins’ backup last season, is likely to push Justin Peters back to the Checkers. In the short window between Ellis’ departure and Khudobin’s arrival, Peters became the NHL backup by default, with no other goaltenders signed within the organization.
“Anton proved to be a very capable NHL backup for the Bruins last year,” Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement. “This solidifies an elite goaltending tandem for the Hurricanes.”
Peters, an AHL All-Star prior to his recall to Carolina last March, is on a one-way contract and will earn his full NHL salary, regardless of which league he plays in next season. The 26-year-old’s 2.29 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and six shutouts in 37 Checkers games last season marked the best numbers of his six AHL seasons.
With the organization’s top three now intact, a fourth will be added as the offseason progresses. Candidates include Mike Murphy, a restricted free agent, and Rob Madore, last season’s playoff starter whose AHL deal with Charlotte is now expired. Last week, the Hurricanes chose to part ways with John Muse, a restricted free agent who played parts of the last two seasons with the Checkers.
The arrival of Komisarek increases competition for depth spots on Carolina’s defense, which could have an impact on Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy, who finished last season with Charlotte but are thought to be on the cusp of NHL jobs. With Rutherford saying that he projects Komisarek to play in Carolina’s top six, the team would have to carry eight defensemen to accommodate both Bellemore and Murphy, something the general manager did not rule out in his media availability following the afternoon's activity.
That should set up for an interesting battle at training camp, with Bellemore, whose grit, something since added by Komisarek, had given him a good chance to build on last season’s breakthrough. Murphy, the 12th overall draft choice in 2011, will be out to prove that he does not require AHL seasoning in his first full professional campaign.
In situations such as this, the younger, developing players often have the most obstacles to overcome, as they have the most to lose by playing limited minutes in the NHL as opposed to occupying big-time roles in the AHL, not to mention the ability to freely pass between the two leagues without waivers. That said, if anyone has a chance of bucking that trend, it could be Murphy, whose offensive dimension, including the ability to run a power play, could force Carolina’s hand.
Meanwhile, the fact that the Hurricanes did not add a depth forward bodes well for a host of longtime Checkers, particularly those like Nicolas Blanchard and Brett Sutter who are best-suited for fourth-line work. However, Rutherford’s assertion that he expects recent first-round draft choice Elias Lindholm to play in the NHL immediately could take up an opening on the third line and present a challenge for players like Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Chris Terry.
Aside from Ellis signing with Dallas, there was no immediate activity involving former Checkers whose contracts with Carolina had just expired. That group includes forwards Jerome Samson and Tim Wallace, defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti and the six players the Hurricanes did not qualify on Tuesday.