Today, the Detroit Red Wings pulled off what at first glance looks to be one of the great heists in recent NHL history, as they dealt a third-round pick and a mediocre veteran goalie in Jonathan Bernier for the breakout star of the Carolina Hurricanes’ season, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. In response to this unbelievable news, Defector’s two resident Michigan loyalists and Red Wings stans, Maitreyi Anantharaman and Lauren Theisen, convened to try and gather their thoughts.
Lauren: Holy shit!
Maitreyi: Lauren!!!!! NED!!!!!! Oh my god!!!!
Lauren: How the actual hell did this happen????
Maitreyi: My face has been stretched in the broadest smile for like 10 minutes straight!
Lauren: This is the absolute coolest and best thing the Red Wings have done since … since … since they got Dominik Hasek? That’s an absolutely ridiculous thing to say about a kid who’s played 29 NHL games. But, well, this is an instant game-changer for the Wings. Nothing can take a bad team to the playoffs faster than an unbeatable goalie, and that’s what Ned was for the Canes last year.
Maitreyi: Lack of goalie has also felt like a real elephant in the room for the rebuild, enough so that I’d seen the Wings slated to pick a goalie in the first round in more than a few mock drafts and, while anyone they draft is my son whom I will love, it is nice to have a somewhat surer bet here. Also whenever I Twitter video-searched Jesper Wallstedt, all the results were for someone else’s highlight (that is Jesper Wallstedt being scored on). I will not miss the hunt for SHL goaltending highlights.
Lauren: Absolutely. The Canes did place Nedeljkovic on waivers as recently as January (back when nobody really knew who he was), but the coming-out he had since then put him almost instantly in the company of the best goalies in the league. Obviously there’s no guarantee that he keeps it up—you can look at someone like Jordan Binnington for an example of a guy who regressed closer to league average after a huge start. But it’s not like keeping Jonathan Bernier and a third-rounder is anything close to a preferable option. This is just a shockingly lopsided deal.
Maitreyi: A quick shoutout to Jonathan Bernier’s wife, Martine, a delightful Instagram presence. I wish her and her family the very best. But yes! Maybe you are not the paranoid weirdo I am, but are you at all wondering what the catch is? Is it really just that the Canes didn’t want to pay him? That seems so dumb!
Lauren: I really want to believe the theory that the Alliance of American Football is to blame—that Canes owner Thomas Dundon lost all his money betting on spring football and now can’t afford or doesn’t want to sign any substantial deals with his free agents. (Ned was an RFA and he’s reportedly getting two years and $6 million from the Wings.) But there could also very much be some behind-the-scenes drama that just hasn’t leaked out yet.
If this is true, this is very rude? The guy was a Calder finalist with a .932 regular-season save percentage.
Lauren: Extremely rude! Like, the turns-me-into-a-paranoid-weirdo-about-what-might-be-wrong-with-Ned kind of rude. But maybe the safer assumption is just that the rich guy is being a cheap asshole and the sweet young netminder did absolutely nothing wrong and now gets to thrive in Detroit.
Maitreyi: I like to imagine Steve Yzerman does his trade calls via Zoom and everyone is just disarmed by his good looks. That’s my operating theory for this trade.
Lauren: Don Waddell didn’t stand a chance. So, after this, what are your expectations for the Wings this season? How much do they improve upon a 27th-place finish last year?
Maitreyi: Am I expecting them to be “good” at “hockey”? Not really, and the division seems pretty tough. But I am looking forward to the improvement in vibes that an influx of youth can bring. Moritz Seider will be here! Ned!!!!! And I don’t want to be unreasonable, but I expect Joe Veleno will score 30 goals.
Lauren: In my head, this was going to be the season where I “got tough” with the Red Wings. After a literal lifetime of playoff appearances, followed by five straight years sitting on the outside, I was going to have to see some level of improvement if I was going to keep being able to earnestly support and believe in the plan that’s supposed to be in place. Now, even ignoring all the young guys who are primed to emerge as heartthrobs and goal-scorers, it shouldn’t be too hard to take a step forward! Even if the skaters only play a little bit better, a world-class season from Nedeljkovic like he had in 2021 might be all it takes to earn … dare I say it … an eight seed?
Maitreyi: I am of two minds here. The first mind is Please, I Am Begging You, Tank For Shane Wright. The second mind is I don’t think I can bear to watch another dejected Dylan Larkin press conference and would much prefer for them to be watchable and decently competitive. I hope these young guys will thrive and have some fun this season.
Lauren: If only Dennis Cholowski were around to see it.