Frederik Andersen thriving early under ideal Hurricanes conditions

There is a difference between playing goaltender for the Hurricanes and the Leafs, and Andersen could prove how drastic that is this season. (Getty)
There is a difference between playing goaltender for the Hurricanes and the Leafs, and Andersen could prove how drastic that is this season. (Getty)

There's the ideal way to step into free agency. Then there's the staggered finish Frederik Andersen had while entering the open market.

While other top free agent netminders either emerged or enjoyed career-best campaigns, Andersen laboured through his worst season as a professional in his fifth and final year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He not only underperformed on the ice, but had an injury contribute his poor and untimely performance.

In a perfect storm, of sorts, the backup netminder and team he was protecting with his selfless decision to keep grinding through less-than-ideal conditions to perform would flourish together once Andersen could prioritize his health. He lost his job and much of his value when Jack Campbell, who had the opportunity to heal his ailments, stepped through that door and embarked on a record-breaking run.

It was obvious Andersen's time was up — both with the Leafs and as a player with big potential in the free-agent market.

Fortunately, another perfect storm was around the corner.

After the Carolina Hurricanes somewhat controversially made the decision to capsize their goaltending depth chart in the offseason, an unlikely opportunity for Andersen emerged. Though it was for slightly fewer dollars and very little term, Andersen was brought aboard to be the No. 1 netminder for a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and a team that doesn't necessarily value pedigree at the position because it protects its goalies with elite shot- and scoring-chance suppression.

After in some ways being the victim of circumstance in Toronto, Andersen is now in a position to be sheltered by one of the most well-oiled programs in the entire NHL.

Now he couldn't be in a better position to win games, to post numbers, to recoup some of what's been lost in terms of earning potential.

It's a point that couldn't be illustrated better than it was Monday with his former team in town. While he did provide early fodder for the less-than sympathetic Leafs fans with a lazy effort on Auston Matthews' wrap-around ice-breaker, Andersen cruised through the remaining minutes, making 22 saves in a 4-1 win.

The victory improved Andersen's early-season record to 5-0. He's only the second netminder in NHL history to start perfect through his first five games with a new team. He's done it with a .946 save percentage, which is second in the NHL among full-time starters, and 32 percentage points better than his career average across five seasons in Toronto.

Andersen's sizzling numbers will naturally depress toward his career average, but the expectation should be that he out-performs his typical standard.

The Hurricanes have allowed fewer attempts, fewer shots, and the fourth-fewest scoring chances on average over the last three seasons. The favourable conditions have helped Carolina netminders routinely perform in the top third of the league, most recently finishing with the league's third-best total team save percentage. Carolina had four netminders with over 1,500 all-situations minutes across those three seasons, with each keeping a save percentage above .910.

That included Alex Nedeljkovic, who leaned on quality conditions to finish his short career with a .926 mark before the Hurricanes moved on this past offseason.

Over that three-year period, Andersen performed at a same statistical level of an average Hurricanes netminder, fashioning a .911 all-situations save percentage. That was an issue in Toronto, because it suggested that Andersen was merely a replacement-level starter, which wasn't worth the $5 million he was being paid.

Or an extension, of course.

But there was a big difference between Toronto and Carolina, which was that the Leafs struggled in the areas the Hurricanes have specialized in, with the former performing as a bottom-third team in terms of attempts, shots and chances allowed. That hasn't had a major impact on Campbell's game, however, which is a testament to his performance and perhaps evidence that Toronto made the correct decision to turn to its backup and move forward.

But that doesn't mean Andersen shouldn't thrive in Carolina, and within the confines of a program that doesn't ask much of its netminders.

Life is easier now for Andersen, and that's been fully evident in his performance through the first two weeks of the season.

We'll see what that's worth in the end.

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