Not even an hour after the trade freeze across the NHL was lifted, news came out that the Detroit Red Wings had acquired goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes. In return, the Red Wings gave up the rights to Jonathan Bernier and a third round pick (previously belonging to the Vegas Golden Knights, acquired in the Tomas Tatar trade.)
This move likely cements a goaltending tandem of Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss for the 2021-22 season. At 25 years old, Nedeljkovic will be the youngest full-time Red Wings goaltender since Petr Mrazek. Through 23 games this season with the Hurricanes, Nedeljkovic had a 15-5-3 record, along with a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA) and a .932 save percentage (SV%). In nine playoff games this season, he went 4-5, with a GAA of 2.17 and a SV% of .920.
So Long, Bernier
Before we fully dive into this deal, I think we should stop and take a moment to appreciate the end of Bernier’s time in Detroit. A wildly underappreciated goaltender, he had stretches going back to the 2019-20 season where he was one of, if not THE best goaltender in the league, but the quality of the team in front of him held him back from leaguewide recognition. With just 33 wins through 105 games, this will go down as his most unsuccessful stint with any team he has played with, but it is hardly his fault.
Should the Hurricanes get him signed, he’ll provide great value as a “1B” option for a team with higher aspirations than the Red Wings. Bernier has been a loyal soldier over the last three seasons, and it’s good to see him land somewhere where he’ll have some support in front of him.
Rookie of the Year Nominee
In acquiring Nedeljkovic, the Red Wings add a goaltender that was a finalist for the Calder Trophy this season as Rookie of the Year. While that is impressive on its own, it’s even more impressive when you factor in the fact that he was placed on waivers at the beginning of this season – anybody could have claimed him for nothing, but he passed through and went on to seize the starting job in Carolina.
So why did the Hurricanes give up on the young, upstart goaltender? Easy: money. With an asking price of $3.5 million, Carolina’s management team did not feel comfortable forking out that kind of cash for a guy who has just 29 games to his credit. Upon acquiring him, the Red Wings swiftly got him to signed to a two-year deal with a $3 million cap hit.
While that may be a bit pricey for a player who still has a lot to prove, Nedeljkovic clearly has plenty of upside, and if he makes good on it, he could very well become Detroit’s starter for the next decade. After all, at just 25 years old, he is just now starting to enter his prime. This is especially important as the Red Wings decide whether or not to invest in a goaltender with one of their top picks in the upcoming entry draft.
With this move as well as the move to acquire defenseman Nick Leddy, Yzerman has now dealt an extra second and third round pick in this year’s draft to shore up the team’s defense and goaltending. The Red Wings still have five picks through the first three rounds in this draft.
The fit with Nedeljkovic is obvious. As stated above, he could develop into Detroit’s goaltender of the future starting next season. As a native of Parma, Ohio, he knows the mid-west very well, and he even has experience playing with the Red Wings’ captain, Dylan Larkin.
While this is certainly a gamble of sorts, this is the type of gamble Yzerman had to take if he was going to acquire a young goalie outside of the draft. 29 games is not enough to go off of, but he’ll likely get a healthy dose of action next season, likely in a tandem with Greiss. If this season goes well, the training wheels will likely come off to start the 2022-23 season. This season will go a long way towards determining what Nedeljkovic’s career trajectory will be.
If the last week or so is any indication, this offseason is going to be filled with surprises. This surprise, however, might have the longest-lasting impact on the team if everything goes right. Keep those fingers crossed, folks.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.