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Kingerski: Hurry Penguins, Throw the Cash Before Cost Goes Up

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Sidney Crosby Alex Nedeljkovic

The NHL free-agent frenzy is just under two months away, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have one expiring contract that could affect their team significantly next season.

Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.

Team USA’s Alex Nedeljkovic.

The Buffalo Sabres are struggling with what to pay their young goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. He struggled as the starter but had a strong kick to the end of the season as Buffalo crawled to the edge of playoff contention. After 13 years of tee times, the team has urgent playoff aspirations for next season.

The Philadelphia Flyers cratered at the end of the season, squandering what looked like a sure playoff spot, in part because of patchwork goaltending. Narrowly missing the playoffs may not add incentive to speed up their rebuilding process, but it surely whetted their appetite to maximize their chances within their reestablished process.

The Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils will be desperate to earn a playoff berth next season, and goaltending is a primary focus of both.

The NHL trade market is going to be a seller’s market as the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators hold aces they won’t soon sell for a fair price.

Cutting to the chase, a few teams with playoff aspirations will battle over sparse options, and a few will get desperate. See also: Ottawa signing Joonas Korpisalo to a four-year contract on July 1, 2023. Those are just the first reasons for Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas to move aggressively to get Nedeljkovic’s name on a contract for next season.

Nedeljkovic, 28, had an impact on the team. His scrappiness and determination transferred to the team in the most important moments of the season. Coach Mike Sullivan didn’t specifically say that’s why he started Nedeljkovic in the final 14 games, but he did praise those attributes and the effect on the group.

AFP analytics estimated Nedeljkovic’s next contract to be two years, $2 million per season.

In fairness, starter Tristan Jarry missed a pair of games at the beginning of the final stretch, dealing with the purging illness that swept the team over a two-week period. However, Sullivan had a couple of chances to go back to Jarry over the following games but instead kept Nedeljkovic in the net.

The Penguins went 8-1-3 in their frantic race to the finish, just short of a playoff berth.

Jarry has also struggled with inconsistency, especially later in seasons, and injuries.

The final reason is perhaps as important as anything else. PHN was the only outlet to scout the last few Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins games, including what became a two-game playoff ouster.

Dubas specifically mentioned wanting to see top prospect Joel Blomqvist assert himself in those games. I can tell you firsthand that he decidedly did not. His stick work is a little weak for the NHL game, and he simply didn’t play well in the big games.

He played poorly, struggling with the fundamentals of rebound control, positioning, and seeing through traffic.

Read more: Penguins Grades: The Joel Blomqvist Scouting Report from WBS Playoffs.

Those games certainly don’t negate a very good season, but they do cast doubt on his readiness. NHL shooters are a little less kind than the AHL variety, and to not play well in the heightened intensity of the playoffs against better AHL teams doesn’t quite announce his presence with a demanding tone.

Wednesday, Nedeljkovic accepted the invitation to play for Team USA beginning this week at the World Championships in Czechia. He’ll get another opportunity to show more GMs that he’s revived his career and he can be trusted with the net in important games.

Nedeljkovic wasn’t unbeatable with the Penguins. His overall save percentage was .902, and it was below .900 during the final run, but he showed himself to be a winner.

And a fighter.

He might not be every GM or coach’s ideal candidate, but he could be an affordable option for a team that is otherwise without.

Nedeljkovic said he wanted to stay with the Penguins to “finish the job.” He wasn’t shy about telling Dubas that in their exit interviews, either.

Given Jarry’s injury history and late-season struggles, Blomqvist’s uncertainty, Nedeljkovic’s positive impact on the on-ice, and the desperation that will exist, it would behoove Dubas to get Nedeljkovic’s name on a contract immediately.

Before the cost goes up.

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Thomas Tarka
Thomas Tarka
13 days ago

Great article and take.

Seems like a safe bet:

  1. Low cost option who is motivated to play for us.
  2. Insurance at a key position if Jarry is injured or otherwise (not to mention goalie depth! – how many teams have had to go to goalie #3 due to injury in the last 3 years, not to mention how many times has it happened to the Pens) and
  3. Trade capital at the deadline to teams that might be interested.
Moe Ali
Moe Ali
12 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Tarka

Absolutely the right thing to do for Dubas given Jarry’s unreliable performances thru out, and loomquist’s unreadiness for next seaon.

Aaron
Aaron
13 days ago

Fix the play in front of the goaltending, roll with what they have. If they’re truly serious about contending for a cup in the core’s closing window, they can’t afford Ned and actually change the roster in front of him. They need to acquire one more top 6 forward.

wesman33
wesman33
13 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Sign Ned

Dean
Dean
13 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Spot on. Not worth $2m. Blomqvist will be way better under $1m

Robert Shoemaker
Robert Shoemaker
12 days ago
Reply to  Aaron

Dubas has roughly 10 mil to work with to make that happen. Still plenty left over to give Nedeljkovic his modest raise.

Nathan
Nathan
13 days ago

In other words, the Pens are facing another season of inconsistency in goal. Jarry is not the answer and has proven it.

howard
howard
13 days ago

Wow are you guys are wrong. It’s real easy to see Ned is a better goaltender than Jarry. I said it the beginning of the year and will say it again. Jarry is a below average NHL goalie. If he is our no.1 next year if will be a long year.

Wasnt
13 days ago
Reply to  howard

I think you mean a short year.

Penguinfan
Penguinfan
13 days ago
Reply to  Wasnt

Literally shorter, metaphorically longer? 🤔
If they have to keep Jarry, I rather someone else get more games. Too early to worry about it though.

Wasnt
13 days ago

Whoa, sounds like Dan wants some agent commission….good for you

Justin
Justin
13 days ago

I dunno $2 sounds like a real bargain. Give the man at least a Franklin already

Steve
Steve
13 days ago

Any chance any teams willing to take a chance on Jarry? No return necessary. Take the contract and good luck!

King Penguin
King Penguin
13 days ago

Should be able to fill the 4×6 for no more than $5M with Neddy, Blomqvist and Broissoit/Jones/Reimer. Move Jarry in a trade for players and/or draft picks and still have money left over to pursue a depth player or two.

Last edited 13 days ago by King Penguin
Joni Lindholm
Joni Lindholm
12 days ago

“Ukko-Pekka Luokkenen”… who?

Jamie
Jamie
12 days ago

I wonder how many of you were on the Jarry train over Murray? See where that has got us. We haven’t been a contender since Jarry has been around. Jarry has never been the answer. Buy him out or trade him. Start fresh with Ned or the market. Players seemed to believe more in Ned and that says something

Tim S
Tim S
12 days ago

All goalies are inconsistent in today’s NHL. Tired of writers and fans who automatically decide a goalie is good or bad based on numbers. Speed and skill is off the charts and you can’t expect goalies to NOT let in some softies as a result. Bottom line: sign Ned to a 2-year deal.