When you talk about the Predators goaltending situation, normally there is only one name you think of, at least that is the case as of now. Pekka Rinne became Nashville’s seven million dollar man just a short two seasons ago, and his contract officially kicked in this year despite it being a lockout shortened season. Nashville has always been a goaltender hub, from Mike Dunham, Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason, and now Pekka Rinne. Despite Nashville being good at developing goaltenders, there have been several netminders they’ve swung for the fences on and missed horribly. What about Brian Finley? He was drafted 6th overall by the Predators only to turn around and play in four NHL games total. Then there is Jeremy Smith, who was taken in the second round just a couple of seasons ago, and now he’s playing backup to Magnus Hellberg in Milwaukee. I guess that’s still better than Chet Pickard, who is playing in Sweden now after being reduced to the ECHL level for the Cyclones. That proves that even a team like the Predators can miss on goaltenders, it also proves fans have a bit of a gripe with David Poile over using those picks on goalies, between that and trading picks for faceoff specialist the fans have been ready to have his head for a minute. I think the Filip Forsberg trade eased that up, as will the future number four overall pick. Anyways, I digress…let us get on with the goaltender grades for this season.
Pekka Rinne, 43 games played, 15 wins-16 losses-8 OTL, .910 save percentage. Overall grade, B.
For some a B might be too high for Peks, for other it might be too low. For me I find it just right, Pekka at times looked like the Vezina candidate we all know and love, other times he looked lost and confused on the ice, especially in shootouts. Pekka has even admitted several time that he has struggled in the shootouts, something we’re not accustomed to seeing out of him. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this season though, playing 43 games out of a 48 game schedule is tough, but he stayed in until the Predators were absolutely taking in their final breath. Some say that’s being overworked, but that’s what happens when you become a goaltending ace. The other reason I am cutting him some slack is because he had defensive musical chairs going on in front of him all season long. Shea Weber, Scott Hannan, Hal Gill, Ryan Ellis, Jonathon Blum, Victor Bartley, Kevin Klein, and Roman Josi were all in the defensive rotation at some point this year. And while Scott Hannan, Hal Gill, and Shea Weber are good at shot blocking, Josi, Ellis, Klein, Blum, and Bartley play a game where they’re more into stick checking the puck off the stick of the opposing player. Don’t get me wrong, I feel defense needs a hybrid of someone who stick checks and a big mean body checker/shot blocker. That’s what made the Suter/Weber pairing so great. Back on point, with that many guys rotating in and out in front of you, you’re bound to see missed assignments, a lot of them.
That we did, all too often you would see the sniper left open in one of the faceoff circles, or you would see a missed stick check on a hard snap shot that barely got past Peks, then of course there was Mr. Datsyuk who made us all look like idiots on occassion. There were a lot more defensive zone breakdowns, and in turn a lot more shots on Pekka than we needed. However, there were still times when the defensive zone coverage was good, and he just couldn’t stop a shot. We’ll live with that, it’s part of the game. For every one shot Pekka didn’t stop, it seemed like there were another 1,000 “OH MY GOD” saves. At the end of the day, he’ll always be overworked slightly, but hopefully in the future we can get a more solid backup who can come in relief for about 15-20 games next season. Speaking of backup goaltenders…
Chris Mason, 11 games played, 1 win-7 losses-1 OTL, .873 save percentage, Overall Grade, D.
I feel kind of sorry for Chris Mason, he came into Nashville thinking this would be his ride into the sunset. He would get to back up Pekka, play in 15 games, and contend for a Stanley Cup in the spring. Sadly, he got a fall from grace very quickly with the Nashville Predators. Mason looked amazing in his first game against the Wild, it looked like for once we actually had a backup goalie we could really lean on in clutch situations. He even looked good in his second game against the Wild, but then it happened. Chris got cold, because he didn’t get work, he sat for long periods of time hoping to hear his name called in a relief effort of Pekka but that call never came. Then one day, the call did come against the Colorado Avalanche in what was considered a must win game for the Predators to stay in the playoff hunt. Poor Mason looked awful, and will be remembered for the offsides pass that beat him for a goal. Granted it wasn’t all Chris Mason’s fault…he did have long periods of time where he wouldn’t get any work in. He wouldn’t get in the game, and only had practice time to rely on. To be brutally honest, he was the highest paid commentator on Fox Sports Net Tennessee. That’s about all I can really remember him for this year, not many games he played in, even fewer games he started in, and his save percentage was horrid. That’s what happens when goalies get cold.
I would like to see Chris come back, but I think after this year he will have to come back for a million on the dot. No offense to Mason, but he just did not play great this year. There is not really much more I can say about him, he dealt with the similar problems as Peks, but couldn’t stop as many shots. For what it’s worth, he does have the coolest hockey gear, and an even better beard. Kudos Chris, that’s a man’s beard right there.
I think that the Predators will explore other options in the backup goaltender department. If they don’t find someone they like, it is very possible Chris Mason will come back. I don’t think they’re going to bring Magnus Hellburg up yet, even though he’s been tearing it up in the AHL he is still a very young goaltender and hasn’t fully started a whole AHL season yet. He’s mostly been used as a relief guy, despite getting quite a few starts as of late. I think the 2014-2015 season is the soonest we could see Hellburg pulling the relief role for Peks, but even then that wouldn’t be that far away. Pekka himself started three seasons for Milwaukee, and he turned out alright, it’s hard to imagine playing in the AHL for two more seasons would do any harm to Hellburg. I think the kid has a very bright future, and is poised to take over the starting goaltender role around the ripe age of 27-28. Until then, he can settle into playing in Milwaukee and backing up Rinne. I’m actually kind of hoping in the near future he can be the guy to take 20 games off of Peks and we can still compete night in and night out.
In terms of free agent goaltenders Niklas Backstrom is available, but it’s hard to imagine him leaving Minnesota. Even if he did leave Minnesota, it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t try to get a starting job elsewhere. Another name to look out for is Mike Smith, he’s going to be a UFA but is much in the same boat. However, depending on the market he might look into a solid backup job for next year before taking over as a starter elsewhere. Highly unlikely, just throwing it out there that he could be an option. My favorite options at this point are bringing back Chris Mason or signing Jose Theodore. Both are older goalies who couldn’t start full-time anymore, and they both have similar numbers. The difference being, Theodore played in front of a swiss cheese defense most nights. I would be happy with either option, and I’m sure the Predators would be as well. That’s all for this season review on the Predlines, later in the week I will be breaking down Top 6 Forwards, Bottom 6 Forwards, and the Defensemen so stay tuned.
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