The Detroit Red Wings invested in goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic futures this offseason. Trading to acquire the Calder Trophy finalist from the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wings immediately signed the netminder to a two-year, $6 million contract.
The Hurricanes didn’t believe Nedeljkovic was worth that level of investment and opted to move on from him. The Wings made the move for Nedeljkovic, 25, feeling that he could be their goalie of the future. Ultimately, one of these two teams will be proven wrong in their assessment.
This isn’t the first time the Wings have made a move to upgrade their netminding and it won’t be the last. Some arrivals have proven to specacular additions, while others were spectacular failures.
Three Goalie Moves That Worked Out For The Wings
There’s a famous story about a highly-sought after UFA forward turning the Wings down to sign elsewhere in 2001, allegedly because he didn’t like their goaltending. The next day, Detroit traded to acquire six-time Vezina Trophy winner and two-time Hart winner Hasek from the Buffalo.
Since the criteria for the Vezina was changed in 1981, only one Vezina Trophy winner has been traded in the following offseason.
Dominik Hasek was dealt from Buffalo to Detroit in 2001.
Who won the 2001-02 Stanley Cup?
The Detroit Red Wings
— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) July 27, 2021
Hasek backstopped Detroit to the 2001-02 Stanley Cup, posting a Cup-record six shutouts. In two further stints as a Red Wing, he’d help the team win another Cup in 2007-08.
As much as Hasek’s arrival got the most press clippings, it could argued that Vernon’s acquisition was a bigger deal. He’d won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames and had played in two Cup final series prior to his 1994 move to the Wings.
In that first season in Detroit, Vernon got the team over the hump. He backstopped the Red Wings to their first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1965-66. Two years later, he delivered the goods, becoming the first goalie to lead Detroit to the Cup since Terry Sawchuk in 1954-55. His efforts led to the awarding of the Conn Smythe Trophy Vernon as playoff MVP.
With his team 9-8-2 on the 1933-34 season, Detroit coach-GM Jack Adams was an unsatisfied man. Veteran goalie John Ross Roach wasn’t the same puckstopper since returning from taking a shot to the face. The Wings had surrendered 17 goals over the prevous three games. Meanwhile, five Wings were suspended for breaking training rules – 1930s code for being caught out drinking afer curfew.
On January 2, 1934, the Wings acquired goalie Wilf Cude on loan from the Montreal Canadiens. Cude went 15-6-8 with a 1.52 GAA and four shutouts. With Cude between the posts, Detroit reached the Stanley Cup final for the first time in franchise history before succumbing to the Chicago Blackhawks.
And Three That Didn’t
The Wings made one of the boldest moves in NHL history when they signed Vachon as a free agent in 1978 from the Los Angeles Kings. They signed the all-star netminder to a five-year, $1.9 million pact. In those days, compensation to their former club was a requirement that all NHL team ending up paying when signing a free agent. An arbitrator awarded Wings center Dale McCourt, the first player chosen in the 1977 NHL amateur draft, to the Kings.
McCourt challenged the ruling in court and was able to gain an injunction to remain a Wing. To create further unrest, Vachon struggled as a Red Wing. He went 5-19-10 over his first 34 decisions for Detroit. There was even a story floating about that Vachon was the victim of a curse for bringing a Hawaiin tiki statue home from a summer vacation there.
A year after making the playoffs in 1977-78 for the first time in eight seasons, the Wings plummeted back down to the depths of the standings with their future hall of fame goaltender.
Hasek’s initial retirement in 2002 saw the Wings opting to spend $24 million to get UFA Joseph’s name on a three-year contract. On the surface, Joseph’s addition seemed to be an astute choice. Much like Hasek’s arrival in 2001, Joseph was felt to be the best NHL goalie who’d never won a Cup.
Unfortunately, he’d stay that guy. Whether it was the pressure of living with expectations, something just didn’t click for Joseph as a Red Wing. He didn’t play poorly for Detroit but Joseph wasn’t able to deliver the caliber of netminding required to carry the team to glory. Ultimately, he lost his job to journeyman Manny Legace.
Proving incapable of putting together a playoff run despite continually being a dominant regular-season team, Detroit GM Bryan Muray thought changing goalkeepers might change his team’s fortunes. He dealt Tim Cheveldae to the Winnipeg Jets for former Michigan State star Essensa late in the 1993-94 season.
It wasn’t a happy homecoming for Essensa. He was 4-7-2 as a Wing. After two losses in the playoffs, he surrendered the net to rookie Chris Osgood.