Within the flurry of activity that has been the recent routine of Carolina Hurricanes general manager, Don Waddell, the goaltender situation has finally been settled. Well, sort of. Petr Mrázek was signed to a two-year, $6.25 million contract. The remaining question is: “Who will be the backup?”
What About Ned?
Will it be Alex Nedeljkovic – also part of the flurry of activity in June? USA Today reported that “the Hurricanes signed him to a two-way deal for the 2019-20 season, paying Nedeljkovic $725,000 at the NHL level and $70,000 at the American Hockey League level with a $125,000 guarantee. It is a one-way deal for the 2020-21 season worth $750,000.” They also noted that Nedeljkovic was the leading goaltender in the AHL last season, sporting a 2.26 goals-against average on his way to 34 regular-season wins.
Every season there is a chorus of “What About Ned?” that rings from corners of the PNC Arena, home of the Hurricanes. There is a contingent that believes Nedeljkovic should be the next starting goaltender for the Hurricanes. For whatever reason, “Ned” has yet to get the call-up to the Hurricanes for more than the odd backup stint. However, he did start in a game against the Vancouver Canucks last season and got the win with 24 saves.
Whatever Hurricanes management – including goalie coaches and scouts -sees or doesn’t see in Nedeljkovic, he has certainly been discussed by Waddell when the topic turns to the team’s goaltending needs. Might the next two seasons see “Ned” lay claim to the crease, at least as the regular backup?
James Reimer Is on the Roster
One of the moves that Waddell made in June was acquiring goaltender James Reimer from the Florida Panthers in exchange for goaltender Scott Darling and a sixth-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. The Panthers promptly bought out Darling’s contract and put him on buyout waivers.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli posted the nuts and bolts of this deal for the Panthers:
The Hurricanes are glad to see the Darling experiment end. Rarely has a player acquisition fueled more emotions than Darling joining the Hurricanes. From expectation, to anger, to sympathy and now to relief, fans went through the emotional spectrum with him. He has been dealing with the loss of his Dad, and our thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family at this time.
Darling is off of the Hurricanes’ books and Reimer is on the roster. The team press release announcing his acquisition said, “Reimer, 31, was 13-12-5 with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 36 games with Florida in 2018-19.” His career numbers do not excite with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. However, he could fill the need the Hurricanes have for a backup. But, then there is this:
Might Forsberg Muddy the Backup Water?
The team added Anton Forsberg to their stable of goaltenders in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 24. The ‘Canes also acquired defenseman Gustav Forsling and sent defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela to the Blackhawks.
Waddell said of Forsberg in a team press release, “Anton is a big, skilled goaltender and we look forward to him competing for our goaltending job this fall.” He is also on record as saying he, “envisions him competing for the NHL backup role,” (from “What the Hurricanes’ pre-July 1 goaltending moves could (or should) mean for free agency” – Sara C
At 6-foot-3, Forsberg is a bigger goaltender than Mrázek (6-foot-2), Nedeljkovic (6-feet), and Reimer (6-foot-1). That little height difference may or may not help him in competing to be Mrázek’s backup.
Boiling it Down: Mrázek’s Backup Will Be…
My guess is that Reimer will get the job, at least in the beginning. Forsberg sets up to compete, and could beat out Reimer, but is more likely to end up in Charlotte, in my opinion. Of course, Reimer would have to stay with the Hurricanes for that to happen and if Luke DeCock’s tweet is accurate, he might not.
Nedeljkovic is likely to stay in Charlotte, to the dismay of his fans. The truth is that he could play at the same NHL level as Reimer and Forsberg, but may have been tagged as a minor-league guy in the minds of coaches. Sometimes perceptions are stronger than reality, and “Ned” will have to work hard to get his shot as a regular backup on NHL ice.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.