Nashville Predators: Tough Decisions Will Be Required at Goaltender

GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15: Goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15: Goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

It’s a good problem to have, but the Nashville Predators face a juggling act next season with three quality goaltenders and how to use them.

The Nashville Predators have never had trouble with having high quality goaltending over their two decades of existence. It’s an area we’ve always been able to rely upon.

This past season has been the most troubling season in net that I can remember, going all the way back to the early years of the franchise when just making the playoffs was a victory in itself.

There were many reasons for this that went way beyond whoever was lining up between the pipes. Bad defense, a midseason coaching change and a penalty kill that was ranked near the bottom for most of the season.

Much like choosing a starting quarterback in football, the Predators have to figure out how they want to navigate into next season with Juuse Saros as the expected primary starter, but two others in the mix behind him and in very different points in their career.

Who will be the backup?

This question isn’t too difficult to answer right now, as I believe Pekka Rinne should be the backup going into next season. He’s earned that right, has one more left on his current contract and still has a lot to give to the franchise.

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However, you do have the young and rising star of Connor Ingram. He absolutely tore it up in the AHL this past season for the Milwaukee Admirals.

Ingram has been recognized by the organization by getting a three-year contract extension, which is well-deserved.

It was his first season in the Nashville Predators minor league system after coming over here via trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 7th-round draft pick in 2021.

This was a case of a player having a ton of raw talent and promise, but two sides just needing to part ways.

This is starting to look like a very good trade for the Predators as they think into the future about when Rinne inevitably decides to retire. We just don’t know if that’s going to go past 2021.

It’s Rinne’s undisputed backup role going into next season, but what will get intriguing is if he stumbles out of the gate with several bad starts in a row.

If that ends up happening, then a difficult decision will have to be made on whether to call up Ingram to be Saros’ backup. That’s assuming that Ingram keeps on his positive trajectory that he’s been on in his AHL career.

Father Time is undefeated

As much as virtually every other Predators fan, I don’t want to see Rinne’s time come to an end. It will absolutely crush me if I ever see him in another uniform, which is possible if he gets supplanted by Ingram and he’s not ready to hang them up yet.

My ideal scenario would be to see Rinne flourish in the backup role next season, go out with one more successful season and see Ingram come up after that.

However, this is a business and you have to do what’s best for the team. Perhaps Rinne’s struggles are a sign of things to come. The beginning of the inevitable decline that every professional athlete eventually faces.

When it comes to Ingram, I’m very encouraged by what I’m seeing from him. As I mentioned earlier, he had an outstanding first season with Milwaukee posting 21 wins, a stout .933 save percentage and a GAA of 1.92.

You’re going to win a lot of games with numbers like that from your starting goaltender. Of course the jump to the NHL is always challenging, but this is a solid sample size to be encouraged by for the future.

Rinne hopefully will make the decision easy next season by playing well enough to retain the backup role to Saros. That would keep the hope alive that Rinne can go out on a high level and maybe even get that elusive Stanley Cup.

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Even as a backup, that would be an incredible thing to see. But if not, then the Predators seem to have a solid “Plan B” with Ingram.