Detroit — The Red Wings will have a new look in net next season, and possibly for the foreseeable future.
The Wings acquired goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday for the rights to unrestricted free-agent goaltender Jonathan Bernier and a third-round draft pick (94th overall) in this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
Nedeljkovic, 25, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and was reportedly going to ask approximately $3.5 million for next season (and could have been awarded more from an arbitrator).
Rather than agree to a contract, the Hurricanes traded the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) finalist.
Nedeljkovic agreed to a two-year contract with the Wings for $6 million ($3 million per season salary cap hit) shortly after the trade.
“We have high hopes for Alex,” general manager Steve Yzerman said on a media Zoom call after the trade was announced. “Based on his performance this year in Carolina, he’s a younger guy who we feel has a lot of upside.
“We’re pretty excited about it. He did very well this year. Everyone in our organization is familiar with him, from his local ties playing junior, we know his character and work ethic and competitiveness in watching him play this year. We felt it was a good opportunity to get somewhat of a younger goaltender with still some upside and who can help us win some games.”
Nedelkjovic, a Parma, Ohio native, played junior hockey in the Detroit area with Belle Tire and the Plymouth Whalers.
With Belle Tire, Nedeljkovic was teammates with Dylan Larkin, Kyle Connor (Clinton Township;/Winnipeg Jets) and Zach Werenski (Grosse Pointe/Columbus Blue Jackets).
Nedeljkovic, in his first extended opportunity with the Hurricanes, had a breakthrough season. He had a 15-5-3 record in 23 appearances, with a sparkling 1.90 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
The Hurricanes then eventually went to Nedeljkovic in the playoffs, where he again impressed by going 4-5-0 (2.17 GAA, .920).
But with the Hurricanes facing a bit of a salary crunch, and not willing to go beyond a certain figure with the young goalie — Carolina GM Don Waddell said Thursday afternoon the Hurricanes are looking toward a veteran goalie in the win-now mode they’re in — they made the trade.
The Red Wings were more than eager to pounce, and acquire a young goaltender who fits well with the nucleus the organization is building.
Nedeljkovic will split the Wings’ net with Thomas Greiss, and given Nedeljkovic’s age, somewhat solves the problem of not having a goaltending prospect in the organization.
“We had a decision to make. Jonathan Bernier was a pending UFA and we had some discussions with Carolina regarding Alex,” Yzerman said. “For us, it’s a chance to get a younger goaltender. The kids we have in our system are probably a ways off from playing in the NHL.
“With Thomas Greiss under contract for one more season, to bring in a younger goaltender that has some upside and has potential to be our starter for a number of years, he’s relatively inexperienced at the NHL level, but we think he’s got real good potential and has a chance to play for us for a number of years.”
The acquisitions of Nedeljkovic and defenseman Nick Leddy in recent weeks give the Wings a deeper, stronger lineup around their younger core. The Wings look more competitive and formidable on paper.
Also, with the vast collection of draft picks the Wings have accumulated the last several years at the trade deadline, Yzerman felt it was a good chance to use some of those assets to improve the current roster.
“We’re trying to improve our team,” Yzerman said. “Our goal is to build a playoff team and a Stanley Cup contender; that hasn’t changed. In the interim, we’re trying to give some of our younger players, surround them with a more competitive team.
“We have so many picks, at some point we need to put players on the ice, put a team on the ice, and in our position, it’s difficult to get those real impact free agents. The way you can get some players on reasonable contracts is via trade. We’re not going to sell off all of our assets, our draft picks, but somewhere along the way, you balance trying to be a little more competitive with rebuilding.
“It can be real difficult for a bunch of young kids in the NHL playing games — (losing) can beat you up after a while. We want to be competitive.”
The Wings’ having cap space — they still have about $39.5 million to use with only 12 players under contract — was also a help in acquiring Nedeljkovic and Leddy.
“Cap space gives you an opportunity to do things,” Yzerman said, “go in a lot of different directions either in making trades, sign free agents to improve your team, or in this era, bring on players and get assets from teams that need to trade for cap space.”