The goaltending battle in Carolina just got an added wrinkle. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Anton Forsberg has succeeded in earning a one-way contract for next season, receiving a one-year, $775K award in arbitration. Forsberg had filed at $833K, while the Hurricanes sought a two-way, minimum $700K contract. Not only did the player’s side receive the guaranteed NHL salary they desired, they also landed a favorable decision based on the $767K mindpoint. The Hurricanes have confirmed the signing of the newly-acquired keeper to the awarded terms.
The decision is somewhat unexpected, as Forsberg did not even make an NHL appearance last season and has played in just 45 NHL games over five seasons in North America. Admittedly, Forsberg’s numbers in the AHL are consistently among the best in the league and would seemingly suggest that he is ready for a regular NHL role. However, in reality Forsberg struggled as the Chicago Blackhawks’ primary backup in 2017-18 and has yet to really prove that he belongs at the top level. It’s one thing for the arbitrator to decide that Forsberg has the experience to warrant a one-way contract, but the higher salary is an added surprise.
Regardless, Forsberg, 26, can now make a stronger case in training camp when it comes to fighting for the primary backup role to incumbent starter Petr Mrazek. Forsberg was thought to just be a depth addition thrown into the Calvin de Haan trade made with the Blackhawks, but will now receive the same salary regardless of the role he plays next season. His entire cap hit can be buried in the minors, but the organization will pay him the same amount regardless, giving his candidacy for an NHL role more validity. The team also acquired James Reimer from the Florida Panthers this summer, and the veteran keeper is of course also on a one-way contract. However, Reimer carries a $3.4MM cap hit, $1.075MM of which would come off the books if he is buried in the minors. Assuming Reimer is replaced by Forsberg, the net result would be a $400K boost in cap space for Carolina if Forsberg wins the backup job, an intriguing side effect for the team to consider.
The real twist in the goalie battle is in regards to young Alex Nedeljkovic. The 23-year-old was one of the top goaltenders in the AHL last season and appears ready to take on more NHL responsibility. However, he has a two-way contract and waiver exemption for one more year and now has to compete with not one but two one-way goalies for the backup job. The odds are not in his favor, simply because the flexibility that his youth and contract affords as an AHL option outweighs the adverse effects of sending both Forsberg and Reimer to the minors to give him his chance this season.