Nashville Predators Thanksgiving: Grateful for Goalies

This week of Thanksgiving , let’s be grateful for the netminders of the Nashville Predators, the brick walls of Broadway, the score-stoppers of Smashville.

The goalie situation for the Nashville Predators is one many NHL teams would covet, and a reason for fans to be grateful this week as the 2021 season inches closer, hopefully.

If you didn’t read it already, I recently compared last year’s two starting goalies, Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros to the pies of the Thanksgiving meal, with Rinne being the pumpkin (the one you want to be the best) and Saros being the pecan (solid, but still second fiddle in your heart).

The key takeaway? The Nashville Predators goalie situation is one all fans should be thankful for. The embarrassment of riches isn’t limited to just these two. Let’s break down the goalie situation for the Predators, and the reason to be grateful.

The Veteran Goalie: Pekka Rinne

After what feels like a decade wrapped up into one year that is 2020, it can be sometimes easy to not realize the fact that Pekka Rinne is only two years removed from winning the 2018 Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL.

The 2019-2020 stats were less than stellar, but they don’t tell the whole story. The reality is, the games in which Rinne had to be pulled, he faced an obscene amount of high danger shots due to often times turnovers, or at a minimum defensive breakdowns.

The reality? Rinne’s team left him hung out to dry, and as you watched the season go on, you could tell they knew it. One of the issues that ultimately led to the canning of Peter Laviolette was a lack of defensive discipline.

Suffice it to say, there has been great speculation as to when Rinne will retire. Yes, he just turned 38, and that doesn’t exactly make him a spring chicken in the scheme of things, but as mentioned before, he’s just two years removed from a Vezina Trophy, and one of his greatest seasons.

As Mark Twain once said, “the report of my death has been grossly exaggerated.” That’s not to say Rinne’s career is dead, or maybe even near death, by any means. He’s been a staple to the Nashville Predators and its fan base: he leads the team in jersey sales, just recently won the fan-vote for goal of the year (against the Blackhawks which makes it even sweeter), and he still has show flashes of brilliance.

However Rinne goes out, he deserves to do so on his own terms. Whether it’s by joining the Seattle expansion similar to what happened to Marc-André Fleury and the Golden Knights, or simply riding off into the sunset. Let’s hope that before he hangs it up in Nashville, he hoists the Stanley Cup in a Predators jersey. He deserves it. I just really hope he retires as a Predator.

The Stopgap Goalie: Juuse Saros

For a good bit of time, Juuse Saros has been the backup goalie for the Nashville Predators. He’s been more than worthy of relieving Rinne in tough situations, and in 2019-2020, he eventually became the go-to.

As the team struggled in front of Rinne, they seemed to play with a bit more of an edge in front of Saros that led to coaches rolling with him in the latter part of the year. Saros looked like the heir-apparent with everyone believing that when Rinne played his last game as a Predator, Saros would be the future.

Let’s be honest here; Saros isn’t a bad future to have by any means. His stats are good, but not great. He’s solid in the net, and he’s played behind one of the best to do it which has to have helped with his development.

While Saros showed flashes of brilliance that made the team roar back in the standings, his measurables in some ways make him an overachiever, especially for a goalie that by modern standards. He’s undersized for the position.

For all those good moments, Saros also had some flubs. There were goals that one had to think, even with defensive breakdowns, he should have made the save. He had some vulnerabilities.

I feel less confident, especially after the most recent draft (more on that in a bit), that Saros is the future than I did before the 2019-2020 season. He is by no means a bad goalie, but he also may not be as great as previously thought. \

Perhaps Saros is a trade piece, or maybe he isn’t even protected in the 2021 expansion draft – we don’t know. What we do know is that while he’s wearing the gold in net for the Predators, we have to hope he can grow and provide the saves that can help the Predators be a contender in 2021.

The Forgotten Goalie: Connor Ingram

With goalies like Rinne and Saros, it can be easy to forget the goalie prospects the Predators have waiting in the wings. One of those prospects, Connor Ingram, just had one of the best seasons of his career.

The 23 year-old Ingram was named a 2020 AHL All Star, posting a 21-5-5 record, a .993 save percentage, and a 1.92 GAA, which helped lead the Milwaukee Admirals to a regular season title.

That’s solid by any standard. Ingram was added to the Predators bubble roster in the summer, and though he never saw any action, this move can be seen as the front office noticing his ability and potential.

The jury may still be out on Ingram, as he was just acquired in 2019, but he’s shown that he is a very solid netminder, and that potential is worth exploring. If his level of play continues to be what it has been as of late in the AHL, and if he can translate some of those statistics to the NHL level, Ingram could be deserving of some ice time with the Predators.

What makes this intriguing is the unknown, such as how much longer Rinne’s career with the Predators is left, and what the long-term plans for Saros may be.

Let’s say hypothetically Ingram’s game translates to the NHL: that makes some pieces expendable, or makes Ingram a potentially highly-coveted trade piece. The Predators could end up finding themselves with an overload of goaltender pieces to use in the trade market.

Who knows how Ingram fits into this puzzle, especially after the most recent NHL Entry Draft. He may not be the franchise’s future, but he was just given a three year extension in March. We’ve yet to see him in a Predators jersey during an actual NHL game, but what we do know is the skill is potentially there, and other teams would love if they had a prospect like Ingram to at least consider.

What Predators fans can hope for in the meantime is that his game continues to develop. He was recently loaned to the Swedish Second League’s Bjorkloven, and I hope he can put up some solid numbers that make him honest competition for the NHL roster.

The Future: Yaroslav Askarov

Back in October’s 2020 Entry Draft, the Predators made some waves by selecting the Russian goalie, often dubbed a “phenom”, Yaroslav Askarov. This move led to much speculation among pundits, myself included (if you count the guy who compared Filip Forsberg to Mac N’ Cheese as a “pundit”), and its led to multiple questions.

Was this decision made because Rinne may be nearing the end of his career, or at least his time as a Nashville Predator? Was this move made because confidence in Saros may not be what it used to be? Or was it simply because he fell to the Predators with the 11th overall pick, and he was the best prospect still on the board?

Whatever the reason, he’s now in the Predator’s pipeline, and you don’t invest draft capital in such a prospect without hopes that he really can be the future.

Fans will love the scouting comparison to Askarov’s game. The Predators front office, when discussing the pick, compared his game to Pekka Rinne’s, and that’s something any Predator’s fan should want to see in their future goal tender. Chad Minton already covered how Askarov has been tearing it up overseas, and when you watch the highlights, it’s easy to see why his level of play made the Predators’ decision-makers salivate.

Askarov is signed to the KHL until 2022, so the fan-base will have to wait a bit before we see him bring his game to the states. One thing is certain: Askarov is the kind of goalie to get excited about.

When you watch the highlights, you see some plays that may not translate to the NHL’s level of play, but all that being considered, what shows up on tape is the athleticism Predators scouts have gushed over, and a maturity to his game that makes him the elite prospect he is.

Like any goalie prospect, he’s going to need time to truly develop into what we hope he will be. Patience is the name of the game, however, if the Rad Russian (coining that nickname now) lives up to the hype, the Predators will be setup for another decade plus of solid goaltending, and that’s something to be truly grateful for.