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Analysts Project Penguins’ FA Contracts; What’s Nedeljkovic Worth?

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Nedeljkovic

There remains just a pair of Round One Stanley Cup playoff series, and soon there will be eight teams still fighting and scrapping for Lord Stanley’s chalice. That means there will be 24 teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are diligently devising offseason plans and perhaps trying to re-sign their free agents.

The Penguins have only a pair of notable free agents, and both will swim in the gray area of the subjective regarding their next contract.

And, oh by the way, the NHL salary cap will rise to $87.5 million next season, allowing GMs to spend money so fast and recklessly that drunken sailors appear to be frugal hoarders.

Defenseman P.O Joseph is a restricted free agent, and assuming the Penguins tender a qualifying offer, they will retain his rights at least through any arbitration hearing if necessary.

The case that will tug at the emotions of Penguins fans is goalie Alex Nedeljkovic. He revived his career with the Penguins and started the final 14 games of the regular season, including the furious 8-1-3 charge that almost put the Penguins in the playoffs.

As a matter of accuracy, Penguins president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas gave Nedeljkovic all but the kiss of death during his postseason press conference when he cited prospect Joel Blomqvist’s readiness as an impediment to Nedeljkovic’s future in Pittsburgh.

Nedeljkovic is on an expiring one-year, $1.5 million contract. He made 38 appearances with a pedestrian .902 save percentage but a strong 18-7-7 record. He contrasted significantly with starting goalie Tristan Jarry who made 51 appearances with a 19-25-5 record and a .903 save percentage.

And it’s in the win-loss record and coach Mike Sullivan’s praise for Nedeljkovic’s personal traits and his effect on the team that subjectivity could escalate his coming payday.

Should Dubas get skittish about thrusting Blomqvist in the net next season (and he should be wary), Nedeljkovic would be the primary option, and the team will have exclusive negotiating rights until June 30.

It should be noted additional Penguins free agents Jansen Harkins and Ryan Shea weren’t included in the valuation calculations. Harkins had no goals and four points in 45 games.

AFP Analytics put together projected contract values and terms for the pending free agents, including the Penguins pair. The valuations were done during the season, and updated values may be released closer to July 1 free agency.

P.O Joseph

Joseph, who will turn 25 on July 1, had a rough go in 2023-24. After a breakout season in 2022-23 in which he played 75 games, he was in and out of the lineup this season as a healthy scratch until he found his legs with mentor Kris Letang later in the season.

Joseph played only 52 games with 11 points (2-9-11), suppressing his value.

According to AFP, Joseph is in line for a two-year deal worth about $1.8 million annually.

Until the final stretch, that figure might have seemed shocking, but how many top-four defensemen make less than $2 million? Hint: not many.

PHN Verdict: If Joseph agrees to that term, sign it.

Alex Nedeljkovic

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The generally rag-tag state of goaltending across the NHL is beginning to mirror the 2 a.m. crowd at a truck stop diner. Multiple Stanley Cup contenders are dealing with soft goaltending and hoping their other strengths can overcome the deficiency.

Hey, I speak from experience as a proud patron of many 2 a.m. diners.

Nedeljkovic, 28, could be the wildcard that a team throws its hopes behind as a 1A that pushes a sagging goalie.

In a cold, cut-and-dry world, the folks at AFP don’t think Nedeljkovic will get a big raise. Their projections are a two-year, $4 million contract with an average annual value of $2 million.

However, the goalie market is going to be all over the hockey map. Marc-Andre Fleury was projected to make $1.8 million next season but signed for $2.5 million.

PHN Verdict: At that two years and $2 million per, Dubas should take it but we suspect the player would have a problem with the term and valuation. After that stretch run, Nedeljkovic should be looking for more than two years and pushing for more than $2 million. Or at least see what the market will bear.

Recent Former Penguins Contract Projections

And just for fun:

Jason Zucker: Three years, $5.5 million per season.

Teddy Blueger: Two years, $2.55 million per season.

Casey DeSmith: One year, $2 million.

Daniel Sprong: Three years, $3.9 million per season.