This offseason has the potential to be regime-defining for the Carolina Hurricanes’ front office as they look to navigate a series of obstacles in hopes of icing the highest-level team possible to continue being a true contender for the Stanley Cup.
While on the surface it doesn’t look like it will be the hardest contract to figure out, the next deal for Alex Nedeljkovic could potentially solidify the goaltending position for the Hurricanes moving forward, so its importance is tremendous.
There are two areas to look at for his contract: His numbers and his peers.
On the first point, the rookie netminder put up outstanding numbers this season.
During the regular season, he posted a 1.90 goals against average and a 0.932 save percentage — both best in the league for netminders with at least 20 games played — and according to MoneyPuck.com’s data, he had 9.6 goals saved above expected and a 0.767 high-danger unblocked shot attempt save percentage — fifth and sixth overall in the league respectively for netminders with at least 20 games played.
His numbers regressed a bit in the playoffs, as he posted a 2.17 goals against average and 0.920 save percentage, but those were still solid numbers for the rookie.
The one issue with all of this is the fact that the sample size is just so small for Nedeljkovic. He’s only played in 38 NHL games over both his regular season and playoff career and there’s always the worry that maybe this was just a flash in the pan.
Either way, this contract needs to be a calculated risk for the Hurricanes, who will be relying on Nedeljkovic to be able to replicate his success, which by all means should happen as the Parma, Ohio native has found continued success in every stage of his career so far.
So let’s take a look at the second part of the equation and that being similar deals that RFA goalies around Nedeljkovic’s age have gotten over the last few years.
*Prior Year’s Stats: (Year before contract) W-L-OTL/SOL; GAA; S% // (Playoffs) W-L-OTL/SOL; GAA; S%
- Signing Age: 26
- Prior Year’s Stats: (2017-18) 15-10-3; 2.35; 0.923
- Contract: 3x$3.3
Once rumored to be a future Canes netminder, the former Washington Capital instead had his rights traded out of the conference to the Colorado Avalanche, where he’s put up three solid years for them.
Grubauer had a few years of being a consistent backup for the Caps before the Avs took a flier on him, so it could be a similar contract for the Canes to offer Nedeljkovic.
- Signing Age: 27
- Prior Year’s Stats: (2018-19) 24-5-1; 1.89; 0.927 // 16-10-0; 2.46; 0.914 (Won Stanley Cup)
- Contract: 2x$4.4
A pretty similar comparable for Nedeljkovic would be that of Jordan Binnington. Both had really strong first seasons after spending a long time in their respective systems. Obviously Binnington went all the way that year to set up a sizable first deal, but the similarity is still applicable.
- Signing Age: 25
- Prior Year’s Stats: (2019-20) 19-12-5; 2.60; 0.911 // 3-5-0; 1.90; 0.941
- Contract: 2x$2.8
Korpisalo was one of the many netminders stuck behind an obvious starter that found himself as the de facto starter after the main guy left town.
Once Sergei Bobrovsky left the Columbus Blue Jackets, it was Korpisalo’s team and while his regular season numbers didn’t instill the most confidence, his playoff performance earned him a bit more of a contract.
Now it isn’t the best comparable as Korpisalo’s numbers haven’t been close to what Nedeljkovic’s were, but this exact contract would be the perfect one to get Ned signed to.
- Signing Age: 25
- Prior Year’s Stats: (2019-20) 20-12-1; 2.43; 0.921 // 0-1-0; 1.02; 0.952
- Contract: 3x$3.5
Another young guy being handed the reins after a stellar season, the unfortunate case here is that Jarry’s contract now would seem to highlight the risk with goaltending.
He had a great contract year, giving the Pittsburgh Penguins confidence that they could move on from Matt Murray, but the next season was a huge step down. Jarry had terrible numbers this season and arguably cost them their playoff series against the New York Islanders.
- Signing Age: 25
- Prior Year’s Stats: (2019-20) 13-10-2; 3.06; 0.905 // 2-1-0; 0.64; 0.985
- Contract: 5x$5
Now, the Vancouver Canucks are the one team that has really thrown a wrench into the RFA goalie market.
Demko had long been “their guy” as he had strong numbers in the lower leagues, but his NHL numbers were not necessarily good until he nearly single-handedly beat the Vegas Golden Knights in last season’s playoffs.
He was incredible there and apparently instilled enough confidence in the front office to give him a 5x5 contract despite only 41 total games of NHL experience. A huge gamble, but one that seems to be doing alright so far as Demko had great numbers during the 2020-21 regular season.
This comparable is a very worrisome number for the Hurricanes as they really can’t afford to be tying up big money for a still relatively unproven netminder.
To Keep an Eye On
While these are historically some of the most accurate comparisons for Nedeljkovic, the most telling signs may be the current signings of his 2021 RFA peers.
It may be a bit of a waiting game between the four to see who goes first, but if Nedeljkovic isn’t the first domino to fall, one of these contracts may be the best sign of what’s to come.
- Age: 25
- 2020-21 Stats: 13-6-3; 2.17; 0.918 // 4-1-0; 2.79; 0.922
- Age: 25
- 2020-21 Stats: 16-14-3; 2.62; 0.916
- Age: 26
- 2020-21 Stats: 21-11-1; 2.28; 0.927
Nedeljkovic will more than likely be signed to a shorter term contract with at most a max of three years. He still needs to prove he can be consistent at the NHL level before the Hurricanes should offer him anything longer.
Potentially a two-year bridge deal would be ideal to see if Nedeljkovic is a legitimate 1A option for the long term.
In terms of cost, $3 million or less would be an ideal number, but it will really depend on if any of the other three big RFA goalies sign before him.
Historically, general managers have been throwing out sizable money for unproven goalies, so it will be up to Hurricanes’ management to try and keep the number down.
Regardless, Nedeljkovic seems that he truly is the netminder of the future and while it makes sense to try and tie him up, there are perils of competing under the flat cap.
With still more players to sign, not just this year, but next year too, the Canes can’t afford to be wasting any money.