Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a random set of unrelated Canes thoughts/notes.
1) The importance of Alex Nedeljkovic for 2021-22
Most of the Canes discussion around goaltending right now (including from me) is whether or not there could be a meaningful upgrade from Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. I am on record as thinking that the duo is at least good enough, but at the same time, I would at least consider trying to find an upgrade in the craziest of all off-seasons for the goalie version of musical chairs.
But sitting in the background of it all is Alex Nedeljkovic. He has draft pedigree. He has a history of playing some of his best hockey at lower levels in the biggest games. And he has mastered the AHL. There is absolutely no guarantee of a successful transition to the NHL based on play at lower levels; the position can be humbling even for promising prospects. But if there is a set of boxes to be checked to at least garner a a reasonable audition at the NHL level, Nedeljkovic has checked them all.
Past just deserving a chance, he has the potential to play a critical role in building the 2021-22 Carolina Hurricanes. The team will manage to squeeze under the salary cap limbo pole for the 2020-21 season, but that will be more challenging next year with Andrei Svechnikov’s new contract that could add literally $7 million to the team’s cap spending. Factor in a next contract for Dougie Hamilton and the math gets tough. In net, Reimer and Mrazek who total $6.6 million in salary cap hits are both scheduled to become free agents. The math to add two capable goalies for a similar total cost will likely be challenging. But if Nedeljkovic proves capable of at least being a competent #2 goalie for what should still be a modest cap hit (he is a restricted free agent next off-season), the math gets much easier. If the Hurricanes can find a #1 or #1A goalie for $3-4 million, the team could actual cut costs by $1.5 to $2.5 million. Or if the team wants to add a higher-end netminder, the budget could hold $5 to $5.5 million with Nedeljkovic as the other half without increasing the salary cap commitment.
The range of outcomes as relates to Nedeljkovic could be significant to making the harder salary cap math work next off-season.
2) Ryan Dzingel and Nino Niederreiter
With $2 million spent to sign defense-leaning Jesper Fast, it increasingly looks like any boost the offense will need to come from within. (That is all subject to change if Don Waddell pulls another Rask/Darling Houdini type move and unloads Jake Gardiner to free up salary cap space.) For the first time in probably a decade, the Hurricanes can build a legitimate top scoring line with Aho, Teravainen and Svechnikov. The team also attempted to upgrade at center in adding Vincent Trocheck, but for a center to be productive requires production/finishing from his wings. Martin Necas’ was sporadic but reasonably productive in 2019-20 and should only get better. That leaves an all-important slot on the left side of either that line or bumped up with Aho/Teravainen if Brind’Amour moves Svechnikov down to balance the lines. The other options in McGinn, Foegele, Martinook and Fast will see some stretches in the top 6 when things get shuffled, but ideally the Canes need one of Dzingel or Niederreiter score goals. The 2019-20 season does not elicit a ton of optimism in that regard, but both players do have a ceiling that his high enough offensively to fulfill this need. The Hurricanes forward group looks completely different with the 26-goal Ryan Dzingel from 2018-19 in place of the 8-goal Ryan Dzingel from 2019-20. Similarly, the Hurricanes look much different with the Nino Niederreiter who scored 14 goals in 36 games (32-goal pace over 82 games) after being acquired via trade in 2018-19 as compared to the 2019-20 Niederreiter who scored at only a 13-goal pace.
If just one of these players clicks with Trocheck and finds a higher gear for potting goals, the Hurricanes are suddenly two lines deep offensively. If instead, both plod along like in 2019-20, the Canes could be light by one to three scorers which makes it tough to consistently score enough especially on the road.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your expectations for Alex Nedeljkovic? Do you think he is at least ready to be a competent backup? …or maybe even more?
2) In trying to build a second scoring line, do you think either Ryan Dzingel or Nino Niederreiter could be part of the solution?
3) Who has other player notes to toss into the fray for discussion?