It is painfully evident to everyone that this season has not gone according to plan for the Nashville Predators. If you think things are bad now, wait until we are amid a full-blown rebuild.
With the trade deadline coming up shortly, we may be looking at a much different team in a few weeks, let alone the offseason. The Predators may also have some questions to answer at a critical position, which is goaltender.
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If there is one position that coaches want and need confidence in, it’s goaltending. This position can hurt a good team or boost a mediocre team which has often been the Predators’ case this season.
The goaltending tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros has shown flashes of brilliance in one game, only to struggle in the next. This inconsistency is why there are questions about the future of this position.
However, you can’t lay all of the blame on Rinne’s or Saros’ doorstep. Until their recent “four-out-of-five win” surge, the Predators struggled mightily, and the goaltenders suffered because of the team’s deficiencies.
No matter how you look at it, the Predators may have some issues next season at a position that they have traditionally been good at for a very long time.
The Askarov Factor
The Predators used their first pick in last year’s draft and chose 18-year-old Yaraslov Askarov from Russia. Askarov is an elite goaltender who currently plays in the KHL and is expected to be the Predators’ franchise goaltender.
This seemed like a strange pick at the time due to the Predators’ lack of scoring and Saros, but could turn out to be one of the best moves that GM David Poile has made in quite a while.
There is, however, one small catch. Askarov has two years left on his current KHL contract and can’t make a move to the AHL/NHL until then. Once that contract is fulfilled, a move straight to the NHL is not out of the question.
With Connor Ingram taking a leave of absence from the team, the prospect pool is a little shallow. When Ingram returns, where he will play could be decided at the end of this season.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
Whether Ingram suits up for Milwaukee or Nashville could rest in the hands of Rinne. As hard as it is to say, we may be witnessing Rinne’s last season.
Rinne’s contract is up after this season, and at 38-years-old, the door is closing on his NHL career. His tenure in Nashville is why the Predators have not had goaltender questions until now.
Since Rinne is in a mentorship role with Saros, there is the possibility that he could sign a one-year contract and stay with the Predators. This could help to further Saros’ progression and give him one entire last season before retiring.
If Rinne decides to retire, we could see Saros as the undisputed starting goaltender with Ingram as the backup. If Ingram is still unavailable, the Predators could wind up looking for a journeyman goaltender to help Saros.
Saros the Franchise Goaltender for Predators?
Had you asked me this question after last season, a resounding yes would have been my answer. Now I’m not so sure.
In the offseason, I wrote an article about Saros’ future and how a lot was riding on his shoulders going into this season. Even though this is a strange season and the team has struggled, Saros has to instill that confidence.
Recent reports of an entire team rebuild and who would be off the table trade-wise have also raised some eyebrows. Rinne’s name is potentially in the keep pile, and Saros’ is not.
This has many wondering if the Predators will go into full rebuild mode, try to sign Rinne for one last season, and go with a younger veteran goaltender who can keep the net warm until Askarov can enter the picture.
Another factor in this increasingly complicated equation is that Saros is a restricted free agent after this season. Yet another is the upcoming expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken. If left unprotected, Saros would be very enticing as a backup for the new team.
There are many moving pieces, and the stakes are high for Saros and his future with the Predators. With a third of the season completed, every start for him becomes increasingly important.
Saros swept the Columbus Blue Jackets last weekend and put in two incredible performances. He must keep up this intensity if he wants to silence his detractors and take over as the Predators’ franchise goaltender.
As in the offseason, Saros’ future is in his hands. There is optimism in his future with the Predators if he can finally get over the hump and grab the torch as it passes from the hands of Rinne.