The Nashville Predators either have a lot or not very many goaltenders, depending on how you look at it.
The Nashville Predators signing of free-agent goaltender Jonas Gunnarsson to a one-year entry-level contract this week left a lot of Preds fans scratching their heads. A goaltender was one of the last things that most fans thought the Preds would be after in Free Agency.
The fact that it is Gunnarsson makes it even a bit more perplexing. It kind of throws a new view of how the Nashville Predators goalie pipeline might line up in the coming year.
There is no doubt that Pekka Rinne is going to be the starting goaltender for the Nashville Predators. There are quite a few folks that wish that he wouldn’t play upwards of 65 games during the season as he is not getting any younger as pointed out in this article. For that to happen, you need a capable backup.
For the time being, that backup is thought to be either Carter Hutton who has held the job for the past three years or Marek Mazanec who has been with the Milwaukee Admirals and the Preds for the past th seasons.
The problem is that Carter Hutton is an Unrestricted Free Agent and has the opportunity to sign with any team in the league. Nashville Predators GM David Poile has mentioned that he wants to resign Hutton to the Predators but the ball is in Hutton’s court.
Marek Mazanec is a Restricted Free Agent. That means that if the Predators offer him a contract, he will probably sign with them. Another team could offer but the Preds could match it and teams very rarely offer other teams RFA’s.
The Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators top minor league team have Juuse Saros locked in as the starting goaltender. He is barely 21 and has only had one season in North America. He was fantastic last season, a league all-star but definitely needs more seasoning. His stat line: 29-8-0-0 record, 2.24 goals against average, 0.920 save percentage, and 4 shutouts. Wow.
Saros still needs to work on some stick handling around the net and playing the smaller North American ice and he sure looks like he is the future, but will be in Milwaukee unless something crazy happens in Nashville.
Brandon Whitney who was signed to to a two-year contract in May of 2015 is thought to get the bulk of the work in Cincinnatti for the Cyclones, the Nashville Predators ECHL team. He had an up and down year as his first full year as a pro but has some potential. He actually had a better first half of the season than second.
There are thoughts that 7th round pick in the 2013 Nashville Predators draft, Janne Jovonen might make the jump from Finland and possibly start out in the ECHL with Cincinnatti to start his experience in the North American game. He had a solid second season with the Pelicans of SM-liiga.
And now we have Jonas Gunnarsson. He had a solid year with Malmo in the top tier of the Swedish league after they moved up from the second flight last season. The team wasn’t very good but Gunnarsson played well.
Does Gunnarsson go to Milwaukee and backup Saros? He is on a one-year contract so surely he will play this season in North America. He is not a youngster at age 24, about the same as Mazanec.
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In 2013-14, Marek Mazanec came up to the Nashville Predators when Pekka Rinne had his hip injury. He played in 25 games and had an 8-10-4 record. Since then, he has done more of the same but has never been spectacular.
Last summer, the Preds traded away Magnus Hellberg to the New York Rangers for a 6th round pick in next season’s draft. You start to get the feeling that Mazanec could follow the same route if Hutton comes back to the Preds or if they sign a veteran Free Agent to back up Rinne this summer and get him some rest during the season.
One thing is certain, this is going to be an interesting story throughout the offseason as a lot of things can still happen.