In a move that surprised many in the hockey world this offseason, Alex Nedeljkovic was traded to the Detroit Red Wings. This trade occurred on July 22, 2021, as Nedeljkovic was traded for a third-round pick. It was a move as surprising as any, considering Nedeljkovic had a great season, finishing third in Calder voting. He was even pegged by numerous fans of the Carolina Hurricanes as the goalie of the team’s future.
Alex Nedeljkovic Trade: Win or Lose?
As a goalie, Nedeljkovic performed well at every level that he has played at. Prior to being drafted by the Hurricanes in 2014, Nedeljkovic played for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. In his first season with the team, he helped them advance to the conference finals. This was before falling to the London Knights, the eventual champions. The next season, he wasn’t able to replicate the success in the playoffs but was named the “Goaltender of the year”. Due to his performance, he had an opportunity to play for the American team at the World Junior Championship. He played well in this tournament and helped his team win gold.
The next couple of seasons, he bounced around the OHL and ECHL. This was before he made his AHL and NHL debut in the 2016-17 season. Two seasons later, in the 2018-19 season, he played great, posting a 34-9 record and a .916 save percentage. His play was good enough to win him the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Trophy, awarded to the best goalie. To top it off, he helped his team win the Calder Cup. In the 2019-20 season, Nedeljkovic couldn’t cement his spot in the NHL and mostly played in the AHL.
In 23 games, Nedelijkovic put up a .932 save percentage and 13.25 GSAx (the third highest in the league). When looking at these numbers, one would expect that Nedelijkovic started off with a bang, however, this wasn’t the case. In his first three games, Nedelijkovic had a 1-1-1 record and didn’t have a single game with a save percentage over .900. However, in the next game, he got a shutout against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From that point on he only lost six games (two in OT) and finished the season with a 15-5-3 record.
When he was on the ice when it was a 5v5, his team allowed the most shots per 60 compared to the other goalies on his team. But in terms of High Danger Chances Allowed (HDCA)/60, his team clamped up and allowed the lowest. This meant that the team let the opposition shoot from the perimeter while denying high-quality chances. This was also reflected in the stat showing the average shooting distance from the opposition, which was 35.5 feet. He didn’t have any big weaknesses, as he finished in the top six in HDSV%, MDSV% and LDSV% (among goalies with 1000 TOI). He finished the season on the all-rookie team and was third in Calder voting.
In the playoffs, he helped his team advance to the second round where they lost to the Lightning, the eventual champions, playing in three games that series. Throughout the playoffs, his team allowed only 27.32 shots/60, which was one of the lowest in the league. However, the team didn’t do so well in smothering the opposition’s high danger shots, allowing 7.64 per 60 minutes (at 5v5). This was the fourth-highest among goalies with 300 minutes played. Overall Nedeljkovic played pretty well and in the series against the Lightning, he only had one game where his save percentage was below .900. But, his team offensively couldn’t produce many goals, only scoring twice in three games.
Why Did the Hurricanes Trade Nedeljkovic?
The most obvious reason is that the Hurricanes and Nedeljkovic couldn’t agree on a deal. Nedelijkovic wanted $3.5 million while the team wanted to pay him $1.5 million. Due to this, the team didn’t want to go to arbitration and have a third party be involved when agreeing on this contract. On top of this, the team wasn’t completely sold on him. Although he did have an impressive track record, the sample size was relatively small.
The Upside for the Red Wings
After trading for and signing Alex Nedeljkovic, the Red Wings now have two goalies (the other being Thomas Greiss) going into the 2021-22 season. Greiss did not have a great season last season, finishing with a GSAx of -5.79. This was despite the fact that he faced fewer shots and expected goals per 60 compared to his teammate, Jonathan Bernier (who finished with a GSAx of 1.98). However, Griess faced more rush attempts per 60 relative to his teammate. This is big. A lot of goals are scored off a play that is broken up or when a team rushes into a zone. If the team can limit the number of rush attempts per 60, Griess may perform up to par again. This may become a reality as the defence improved with the addition of Nick Leddy and the possibility of Moritz Seider.
If Nedeljkovic can replicate or come close to how he performed last season, he will be a steal for the Red Wings. Whether he can perform well again will be determined by how the team defends. Last season, Nedeljkovic had a workload that wasn’t too difficult. His HDSA/60 and Chances Against (CA)/60 were on the lower spectrum in the league. The chances of Nedeljkovic performing well will increase if the team can defend similarly (or even better) than they did in front of Greiss. One way or another, it will be interesting to see how Nedeljkovic can perform in a full season. Red Wings fans hope he can prove that this past season wasn’t a fluke.