Nashville Predators: The Backup Goaltender Question

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) . Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) . Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Nashville Predators haven’t had to worry about a backup goaltender for a few years.

The Nashville Predators have an opening on their roster for a backup goaltender after the departure of Carter Hutton. Carter Hutton decided to leave Nashville for St. Louis because he felt that the backup job behind Peks was a dead-end for a career. I don’t blame him for believing that. Pekka plays a lot of games and when you’re at the point of your career where you want more playing time then you have to take a shot and find a team that can provide that.

In the NHL there seem to be two different systems teams put into play when it comes to their goalies. There are teams like The Dallas Stars and The St. Louis Blues last year who split time almost down the middle between two goalies. Depending on the goaltenders it can be a positive or a negative. The positives would be the extra rest not playing so many games, but the negative would be the risk of switching out a hot goalie for someone who may cool down the teams momentum.

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Then you have the system where you have a work horse goalie like Nashville has. This system is where your star goalie plays the majority of a season, and the backup plays a handful of games to give the starter a rest. This has its ups and downs too. Having a starter play 60 games plus can wear them down come playoff time and have a greater risk of injury. But for some goalies playing that many games can keep them in the groove and keep the momentum going.

The Nashville Predators want a backup who can compete with Pekka, but still allow him to be his normal goalie self. There are some options available within the organization that might be the better choice in the long run instead of a trade or a free agent. Let’s take a look at the two likely options for The Preds backup for next season.

Marek Mazanec

Mazanec seems like he’s the guy for the job. Maz was drafted in the 6th round by The Nashville Predators in 2012, and at 25 he’s got great size standing at 6’4″ and 187 pounds. His first three seasons between The Preds and The Milwaukee Admirals has been a bit bumpy, but still successful in my eyes.

Mazanec’s regular season in 2013-2014 in Milwaukee

31 games, 18 wins, 10 losses, 3 ties, 881 shots against, 76 goals against, 2.44 goals against average, 805 saves, .914 save percentage

Mazanec’s regular season in 2013-2014 in Nashville

25 games, 8 wins, 10 losses, 4 overtime losses, 650 shots against, 64 goals against, 2.80 goals against average, 586 saves, .902 save percentage, 2 shutouts

Mazanec’s regular season in 2014-2015 in Milwaukee

48 games, 18 wins, 18 losses, 9 ties, 1,213 shots against, 121 goals against, 2.76 goals against average, 1,092 saves, .900 save percentage, 4 shutouts

Mazanec’s regular season in 2015-2016 in Milwaukee

39 games, 19 wins, 15 losses, 5 ties, 96 goals against, 2.45 goals against average, 1,001 saves, .912 save percentage, 4 shutouts

In the 2013-2014 season, Pekka Rinne was out for the majority of the year due to the hip surgery and then the infection that followed. Leaving the then newly signed Carter Hutton and youngster Mazanec with the job to carry the load that Peks was so used to carry. That’s something that Mazanec has that the other goalies in our pipeline don’t have. He has experience in the NHL.

Maz just signed a one-year two-way deal this summer, and that’s got to be David Poile’s favorite kind of deal. The prove it deal. I can definitely see Poile and coach Laviolette planning to make Mazanec the backup to Pekka to see how it pans out. He’s put up some solid percentages over his career. You’d like to see more wins under his belt, but with the uptempo offensive and the defensive core that Nashville has, perhaps Mazanec could serve as a suitable backup.

Juuse Saros

Saros is an interesting topic because this young man might just be the future goaltender for this organization. Juuse Saros was drafted in the fourth round by the Preds in 2013 and completed his first season on North American Ice last season. And for a rookie year, it was a dandy.

Juuse Saros regular season in Milwaukee

38 games, 29 wins, 8 losses, 84 goals against, 2.24 goals against average, .920 save percentage, 4 shutouts

At 21 and standing at 5’11” 180 pounds it was impressive to see how well Saros was able to play for the first time in North America. Saros played one game with the Predators against The Buffalo Sabres last season, and in his NHL debut, he made 20 saves on 23 shots with what turned out to be a 4-1 loss. I got to see him play in that game in person and I have to say throughout that loss he was still exciting to watch. Apparently, all goalies in Finland stand on their head and make incredible saves.

During the Predators development camp, this summer Saros impressed even more as he led the white team over the gold team in the scrimmage game which I also witnessed. Something that’s intriguing about Saros is his size. As Predator fans, we are so used to seeing a huge 6’5″ goaltender just cover almost every inch of the net. At 5’11” Saros seems to use his speed and his vision to make his saves.

Poile has said that the backup job to Pekka is Marek Mazanec’s to lose, and after seeing some of Saros’s abilities I really believe he could steal it from under Mazanec’s nose. I would much rather have Maz has the backup over Saros for this reason, Saros needs more experience. He is way beyond talented and I really see him as a future star for the Preds, but do you really want to see his talents wasted at 21 as a backup to someone who’s been expected to play 60 or 65 games plus?

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Mazanec is still young but experienced to be the backup, and not only will that allow him to grow more as a player but it give Saros room to grow in his own right in Milwaukee. Poile could go after a free agent, but when you have talent in the pipeline why not use it.