Alex Nedeljkovic adamant Red Wings will be better next season

Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings aren’t going to allow as many goals as they did this past season.

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic is making sure of that.

At his season-ending press conference in May, Nedeljkovic was passionate on the subject of the Wings’ goals-against. The Wings allowed 310 goals, or 3.78 goals-against per game, which was next-to-last in the entire NHL, just ahead of Montreal in both categories (317; 3.87).

Nedeljkovic took the ugly statistics personally.

“It’s my job to stop the puck; it’s my job to keep us in games and help us win games every single night,” Nedeljkovic said. “I understand that. If you want to be a great goalie in this league, you have to do that every single night.

“My job is to stop the puck. Obviously, I didn’t do it enough this year. We were (second-to-) last in the league in goals against. Obviously, that’s not good enough. It will be better. I’ll just tell you that right now. We’re not going to be in this position next year. If nothing were to change from how the season ended to next year, I’m not going to allow that to happen again.

“I hold myself to a certain standard and I didn’t meet that standard this year. Let’s just put it simply —  it’s not going to happen again.”

The Red Wings acquired Nedeljkovic from Carolina last summer for a second-round draft pick and the rights to goaltender Jonathan Bernier (who ultimately signed with New Jersey).

Nedeljkovic, 26, was a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) finalist last season, but even that didn’t inspire Carolina to re-sign Nedeljkovic, who was a restricted free agent. Instead, the Hurricanes traded him to the Wings and went another direction.

Nedeljkovic definitely showed glimpses of being the Red Wings’ goaltender of the immediate future but had rough spots along the way. Nedelkovic finished with a 20-24-9 record, but a high 3.31 goals-against average and a pedestrian .901 save percentage.

Still, his four shutouts were most for a Wings rookie goaltender — Nedeljkovic, by NHL standards, was still a rookie this season — since Roger Crozier had six in 1964-65.

“It wasn’t a bad season by any means. It wasn’t great; it was just kind of in-between,” Nedeljkovic said. “There were nights I was feeling really good about my game. Then, there was a bit of a stretch where I was kind of doing too much, fighting the puck, and things were just going in from every which way and any which way.

“The goal for next year is to be more consistent and to give us a chance to win every night.”

General manager Steve Yzerman felt Nedeljkovic grew from the entire season’s experience.

“He at times had great games; he had some not-so-great games,” Yzerman said. “Some of that was due to our overall team play. What I’m really encouraged by is this could have been a tough situation for any goalie, particularly a young guy who doesn’t have a ton of experience. He survived it and he’s not a basket case today.

“It showed his mental toughness, and it’s good for him that he battled the ups and downs. He didn’t get too carried away when things went well for him, and there were some tough nights and he had to go back in the next night and stop pucks.

“At the end of the year, it was a positive year for him.”

Nedeljkovic appeared in 59 games with the Wings, the most he’s played in since junior hockey with the Plymouth Whalers. The unique grind to the NHL season, particularly for a goaltender, was something Nedeljkovic had to learn to appreciate.

“I don’t think you really understand the (physical) grind, the mental grind an 82-game season in the NHL is,” Nedeljkovic said. “I’ve played a lot of hockey before but nothing like this. We travel nice, with a private plane, stay at nice hotels, but it takes a lot out of you when you have to play here at 7:30 and then fly to Winnipeg and play the next night, or fly to Columbus, then get on the plane for two, three hours and play Dallas the next night. It’s a grind.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to play as much as I did. I learned a lot. Hopefully I can use that next year when things start getting tough to just reflect on a little bit and find a better way to push through it and be more consistent.”

What gnawed at Nedeljkovic this season was missing the playoffs, something he got to experience in Carolina last spring. The Hurricanes reached the second round before being ousted by eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay.

Nedeljkovic relished the experience, the atmosphere and emotion, and sees no reason the Wings can’t soon be a playoff team.

“Missing the playoffs is disappointing; there’s no other way to put it. It sucks,” Nedeljkovic said. “Playoffs started and you’re sitting on the couch, and everybody is tweeting about it and talking about it and it’s all over television, and you can’t miss it. It’s there and just staring at you straight in the face — and we’re not part of it.

“We are where we are as an organization and team, but as players, we can’t just accept that. It doesn’t make sense to say, ‘We’re in a rebuild, we’re not going to make the playoffs this year, we’re not expected to make the playoffs next year. It is what it is and let’s get through the season.’

“That’s a terrible outlook and nobody should have that kind of outlook. To be honest with you, if anybody in that locker room has that kind of outlook, I don’t have time for you.”

Added Nedeljkovic: “I’m here to win a Stanley Cup. My goal is to win a Stanley Cup every year and at a smaller level, to win every single night. If you don’t have that same mindset and goal, you’re not really helping this team and not helping yourself.

“It’s not what you need; you need guys in that room who want to do it every night. We have guys who want to do it every night and want to succeed and not waste their career away trying to rebuild and things like that.”

Rookie of the year 

Defenseman Moritz Seider was named the Wings rookie of the year by the Detroit Sports Media Association on Thursday.

Seider, 21, skated in all 82 games, earning 50 points and 34 penalty minutes. Seider led all Wings rookies in scoring, while leading the team with 43 assists, 21 power-play points and 23:02 average time on ice.

The 50 points Seider earned are the third-highest total in franchise history by a Wings rookie defenseman and the most since Nicklas Lidstrom had 60 points in 1991-92. Seider also set a franchise record by becoming the first rookie defenseman to have an eight-game point streak (Feb. 9-March 4).

Seider is a huge favorite to win the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL’s rookie of the year. He’s a finalist, along with Trevor Zegras (Anaheim) and Michael Bunting (Toronto). Seider would become the sixth player — and the first defenseman — in franchise history to be named the NHL’s rookie of the year.

The Calder Trophy will be awarded on June 21 during the NHL Awards Show.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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