Nashville Predators: Torch Should Finally Be Passed to Juuse Saros

Goaltender Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Goaltender Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

In the only victory for the Nashville Predators during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Juuse Saros picked up his first-ever playoff win. Is he ready for the torch?

The coolest thing about Juuse Saros‘ first playoff win was no one seemed prouder than fellow goaltender and mentor Pekka Rinne.

Saros started all four Stanley Cup Qualifier games for the Nashville Predators, much to the surprise of many who thought Rinne would get at least one start in the series.

Rinne’s record of 89-straight playoff starts came to an end. By all indications, the torch has been passed from at a position for the Predators that hasn’t had many changes over the last decade.

With the trials of the 2020 Predators now behind us, we can look to the future of the team. Changes will be coming in this short offseason, including the permanent starting goaltender.

Next season instead of “year of the fan,” it may be “the year of Saros.” He’s going to have to carry this team at times with some younger, more inexperienced player likely getting bigger roles.

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Saros had a big hot streak before the season pause. His GAA was 1.21 in his last five regular season games. There was also the back-to-back shutouts against the Dallas Stars.

We’ll never know if Saros would’ve continued that hot streak of play, and maybe carried the Predators into the top-three of the Central Division past the Dallas Stars.

Saros’ post-Laviolette play, coupled with a tremendous pre-playoffs training camp, earned him his first playoff start.

Conversely, a struggling Rinne found himself in a backup role, something that hasn’t happened since Saros was 13-years-old.

Now, barring an earth-shattering trade that would be a total shock, Saros will be the permanent starting goaltender when the Predators take the ice next season.

What to Expect Next Season

We have all known that the day would come when Rinne had to hand the keys over to Saros.

This past season was supposed to see more Saros starts to prepare him for the departure of Rinne in the near future.

Rinne only has one more year left on his current contract. Unless he decides he wants to continue to be the backup to Saros on a discounted rate, he’ll either move on to a team that wants him as the starter or he’ll retire from a decorated and successful career.

Saros will only have one more year under the watch of his mentor. Both need to make next season count.

This next season will more than likely be Rinne’s last. It was heartbreaking to see him struggle as he did last season. In the backup role to Saros he can still be a valuable asset to the Predators, and be ready to step in if struggles happen.

Last season Rinne was relied on heavily in the first half of the season. The team on the ice in front of him wasn’t outstanding, causing him to be left hung out to dry quite often. There’s no doubt this took a physical and emotional toll on him.

A well-rested Rinne shockingly never made a playoff appearance in the Edmonton bubble. The last game featuring Rinne in goal was on March 2nd in a loss to Edmonton. This can’t be how he goes out for the Nashville Predators.

Age catches up to everyone, and Rinne is no different. By the time the new season starts, he will be 38-years-old. What will the expectations be for him next year?

Rinne can shine in the backup role

The backup spot may be the best thing for Rinne next season. Being the backup will allow him time to rest and be ready to go when he’s called upon to start. Seeing 40 percent of the starts next year may put him in a good place.

That number can be adjusted depending on how well or how poorly things go. You also can’t forget about the thriving Connor Ingram of the AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals.

If both Saros and Rinne struggle next season, then Ingram will be an option. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, because if it does, the Predators will almost certainly be one of the worst teams in the league.

For Saros, next season will be the biggest one of his young career. He has to be ready to step up to the plate as he has some big shoes to fill and will be up against more pressure than maybe he’s ever faced in his hockey career..

Saros showed that he could be the starter by going for 181 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal, a feat that started with the Dallas shutouts. He also recorded a personal best of four shutouts in the second half of last season.

All eyes will be on Saros, and with that will come lots of criticism if he fumbles. His miscues during the playoffs were widely critiqued. Some detractors went so far as to say he should be traded and that he isn’t ready to step into a more prominent role.

Admittedly, there were some goals in the playoffs that Saros should’ve stopped. However, some goals were due to the team’s old habits creeping back in.

Protecting the front of the net has haunted the Predators in the past, and the playoffs were no different. A Saros shutout was spoiled by sloppy play in the last minute of regulation in the lone Predators win in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

Saros will have to be on his game every start. With Rinne taking the lesser role, he will see several starts in a row, and will see some of the best opponents in the NHL on a more regular basis. A task that has been Rinne’s for over a decade.

A one-two punch of Saros and Rinne both playing well can easily end up being the strength of the team next season, and one that can help keep them as a playoff contender.

Next. Predators Offseason: Targeting a Free Agent Defenseman. dark

Predators fans have had many good seasons with Rinne, but it’s time to prepare for his departure. Saros will undoubtedly be compared to Rinne for years to come. If he takes it all in stride, he’ll be just fine.

After all, he learned from one of the best.