Why past Calder finalists suggest Detroit Red Wings bought low on goalie Alex Nedeljkovic

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings have a new potential star in net this season in goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who was acquired in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes in July.

Nedeljkovic led the NHL in goals-against average (1.90) and save percentage (.932) while finishing third in voting for the Calder Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s top rookie 26 or younger and voted on by the media). Most years, that would check off the “potential” tag and establish a player as a bona fide star.

But thanks to the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season — which lasted just 56 games — and a deeper-than-most goalie pool in Carolina, Nedeljkovic appeared in just 23 games. Accordingly, the ’Canes balked at ponying up on a long-term deal and dealt him to the Red Wings for, basically, a 2021 third-round pick. (General manager Steve Yzerman and the Wings then signed Nedeljkovic to a two-year, $6 million contract.)

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So what, exactly, are the Wings getting in their young goalie? At the very least, they know they’ve got only the ninth goalie to finish as a Calder finalist over the past 30 seasons. So, let’s take a look at how the other eight fared in their follow-up campaigns.

2018-19: Jordan Binnington, Blues

His Calder finalist stats: Second in voting, 24-5-1, 32 appearances, 1.89 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, five shutouts.

The next season: When Binnington started his first game for the Blues, on Jan. 7, 2019, he had just 81 minutes of NHL ice time, spread over three games. A mere 30 regular-season games and 26 playoff starts later, he was a Stanley Cup champion. How do you follow that up? Binnington was solid, but no longer unbeatable; in 50 regular-season appearances with the Blues, he went 30-13-7, with a .912 save percentage and 2.56 GAA. (The Blues got 71 games in before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the league for nearly five months.)

Likewise, he was downright bad once the playoffs began in the Edmonton bubble, allowing 21 goals on 141 shots over 267 minutes in five games — a 4.72 GAA that had some questioning whether he’d be back with St. Louis in 2020-21.

The aftermath: Binnington carried the load during last season’s 56-game schedule, appearing in 42 games; he still wasn’t as successful as his Calder campaign, with an 18-14-8 record, .910 save percentage and 2.65 GAA.

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2009-10: Jimmy Howard, Red Wings

His Calder finalist stats: Second in voting, 63 appearances, 37-15-10, 2.26, .924, three shutouts.

The next season: Howard’s second full season in net for the Wings wasn’t as easy as his first, as a bruised right knee cost him a couple games, and a sprained shoulder slowed him toward the end of the regular season in April. Still, the numbers weren’t too far off in 2010-11: 63 appearances, a 37-17-5 record, a .908 save percentage and a 2.79 GAA, with two shutouts.

In the playoffs, though, Howard began to shine, taking his save percentage from .915 to .923 and his GAA from 2.75 to 2.49. (Though the Wings were knocked out in the second round both seasons.) Chris Osgood, his 38-year-old backup, wasn’t surprised, telling the Freep’s Helene St. James: “If anything, your first year it can be a little overwhelming because the game changes so much. I think even one year makes a big difference. He’s just more calm and more consistent now. … He realizes what he needs to do now every period to be good.”

The aftermath: Howard spent another nine seasons in net for the Wings, finally retiring after a brutal 2019-20 season in which he won just twice in 27 appearances, and not at all after Oct. 29, 2019. Still, he finished his career with the Wings third all-time in appearances in net, wins and save percentage (among goalies with at least 50 games) and fourth in shutouts.

2003-04: Andrew Raycroft, Bruins

His Calder finalist stats: Winner, 57 appearances, 29-18-9, 2.05, .926, three shutouts.

The next season: The Ontario native didn’t actually get a proper follow-up to his Calder-winning season, as the NHL lost the entire 2004-05 season to a lockout by the owners. The lockout ended in July, but Raycroft held out until mid-September, although he signed about three weeks before the start of the season. Just a few days before Raycroft and the Bruins came to terms, they signed an insurance policy in Flint native Tim Thomas, a journeyman who had just won the Finnish Elite League’s MVP award.

Good for them (and for Thomas, who would go on to win two Vezina trophies — awarded to the NHL’s top goalie — and a Stanley Cup), but bad for Raycroft: He never found his form again — he went 5-14-2 with an .885 save percentage and a 3.45 GAA in 21 appearances over 10 weeks — and was demoted to third-string goalie (and frequently a healthy scratch) by New Year’s Eve, with just nine appearances in 2006.

The aftermath: The following season, Raycroft landed with the Maple Leafs; although he appeared in 72 games, he also led the NHL in goals allowed (205), and that was the end of his days as a starter. He bounced from the Leafs to the Avalanche, Canucks and Stars over his final five seasons before retiring in 2012.

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2000-01: Evgeni Nabokov, Sharks

His Calder finalist stats: Winner, 66 appearances, 32-21-7, 2.19, .915, six shutouts.

The next season: A ninth-round pick by the Sharks in 1994, Nabokov broke through at age 25 with appearances in 80.5% of San Jose’s games. He kept up that workload the year after winning the Calder, going 37-24-5 with a .918 save percentage and 2.29 GAA in 67 appearances — a virtually identical performance, right down to finishing fourth in Vezina voting for the second straight season.

He did have one big step forward, though: On March 20, 2002, he became just the seventh goalie in NHL history to score a goal of his own with an empty-netter in the final minute against the Canucks in Vancouver. When the puck came to him, he thought about just giving it to his defensemen. “But after that I see the defensemen split,” Nabokov told the Associated Press. “So I was just like, ‘I’m going to go for it.’ “

The aftermath: Nabokov swam with the Sharks through the end of the 2009-10 season, then had a three-year stint with the Islanders and an 11-game run as the Lightning’s backup in 2014-15 (under Yzerman as Tampa Bay’s GM). In all, he finished with a .911 save percentage and 2.44 GAA in 697 appearances.

1994-95: Jim Carey, Capitals

His Calder finalist stats: Second in voting, 28 appearances, 18-6-3, 2.13, .913, four shutouts.

The next season: After a short season due to NHL owners locking out players in a labor dispute, the Wisconsin alum carried a heavy workload during his first full season, appearing in 71 games. Luckily for the Caps, the then-21-year-old was up to it; he went 35-24-9 with a .906 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. His nine shutouts led the NHL (three ahead of Martin Brodeur and four more than Chris Osgood) and locked up the Vezina Trophy. The playoffs were another matter, however; Carey was shelled for 10 goals in just 39 shots faced and 97 minutes on the ice in a first-round loss in six games to the Penguins.

The aftermath: Carey’s confidence was gone, and it showed during the 1996-97 season, in which he had a 2.75 GAA and .893 save percentage over 40 games before the Caps sent him to the Bruins in a deal two weeks before the deadline. He wasn’t much better there, and five years after his Calder-finalist season, he was out of the NHL.

1993-94: Martin Brodeur, Devils

His Calder finalist stats: Winner, 47 appearances, 27-11-8, 2.40, .915, three shutouts.

The next season: After nabbing the Calder (ahead of the Wings’ Chris Osgood, who was fifth in voting) on June 16, 1994, Brodeur didn’t hit the ice until Jan. 22, 1995, because of the lockout. When the season started, though, Brodeur was ready, appearing in 40 of the Devils’ 48 regular-season games, with a 19-11-6 record, .902 save percentage and 2.44 GAA — not far off his Calder campaign.

He was even better in the playoffs, as he led the Devils to the franchise’s first Cup with 16 wins, a .927 save percentage and 1.67 GAA. That included a sweep of the Wings in the Cup Finals, in which he allowed seven goals in 240 minutes (a 1.75 GAA) and had a breathtaking stop of Kris Draper at the goalpost early in Game 3. “That stick save was the turning point of the game,” said Devils winger Randy McKay (a Red Wing from 1988-91). “Who knows what kind of momentum they get if they get that goal. Sometimes Marty makes plays that have you wondering how he does it.”

The aftermath: Brodeur had 19 more seasons (including one odd final year with the Blues at 42) ahead of him after that first Cup, with two more titles, four Vezinas and nine All-Star Game nods before being inducted in to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

1992-93: Felix Potvin, Maple Leafs

His Calder finalist stats: Third in voting, 48 appearances, 25-15-7, 2.50, .910, two shutous.

The next season: The starting job was handed to “The Cat” after his rookie year convinced the Leafs to deal away veteran Grant Fuhr. He didn’t disappoint early, as he came into a Nov. 4 start against the Wings with a 2.26 GAA and .932 save percentage over his first 11 appearances (with nine wins), then stopped 45 of 48 Detroit shots to claim a tie at Joe Louis Arena.

He struggled a bit after that, posting a .900 save percentage and 3.03 GAA in his final 54 games as the Leafs finished second in the Western Conference. His numbers rebounded in the playoffs — 9-9, 2.46, .912 — but the Leafs were knocked out in the conference finals by the Vancouver Canucks.

The aftermath: Potvin lasted 13 seasons in the NHL, sticking with the Leafs until early in the 1998-99 season; he finished his career with short stints with the Islanders, Kings and Bruins, with his best post-rookie season coming in 2001-02 with the Kings, a seventh-place finish in Vezina voting.

1990-91: Ed Belfour, Blackhawks

His Calder finalist stats: Winner, 74 appearances, 43-19-7, 2.47, .910, four shutouts.

The next season: A season after leading NHL goalies in appearances, Belfour got a bit of a rest to open the season, as he held out as a restricted free agent in pursuit of a $1 million contract with a $1 million signing bonus. The then-26-year-old missed Chicago’s first 14 games (while working out with a juniors team in Saginaw) before settling for a two-year deal — with an average annual value of $825,000 and a $150,000 signing bonus — in late October.

And then he earned it with 52 appearances in the ’Hawks’ final 66 games, going 21-18-10 with a .894 save percentage and 2.71 GAA. The overall numbers didn’t live up to his Calder campaign, but that was likely due to his delayed start; he also finished with an NHL-best five shutouts and fourth in Vezina voting. He was even better in the playoffs, carrying the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1973; he finished the postseason with 12 wins — including 11 straight over the first three rounds — a 2.47 GAA and .902 save percentage.

The aftermath: Belfour played until he was 41, with stints with the ’Hawks, Sharks, Stars (with whom he won his only Cup), Maple Leafs and, finally, the Panthers in 2006-07 before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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