Nashville Predators: Who Will Be Saros’ Backup Next Season?

Predators goalies Juuse Saros, left, and Pekka Rinne, right, pose for a portrait in the team lockerroom at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.Preds Gk 100218 001
Predators goalies Juuse Saros, left, and Pekka Rinne, right, pose for a portrait in the team lockerroom at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.Preds Gk 100218 001 /

If there were any doubts about whether or not Juuse Saros could be the franchise goaltender for the Nashville Predators, he put those doubts to rest last season with a performance worthy of a Vezina trophy.

Saros was the driving force behind the Predators’ improbable turnaround in the back half of the season that carried them to the playoffs. And while Nashville was unable to make it out of the first round, Saros kept them in every game and gave them good opportunities to win.

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Predators fans were disappointed to learn that Saros was not one of the three candidates chosen for Vezina consideration despite being one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. If he stays on this trajectory, there is no doubt that the Vezina will be his.

Now with the looming possibility of Pekka Rinne’s retirement, Saros could face his toughest test yet when next season starts. He could be looking at his first season without his mentor and friend in Rinne.

The Nashville Predators Need Saros

The detractors say that Saros is prone to slow starts at the beginning of each season but comes into his own as the season progresses.

While he had trouble at the beginning of last season, the team in front of him had issues. Once the Predators ironed out those issues and Saros got some protection in front of the net, he excelled.

Saros must get off to a good start next season, and the team must continue to provide support to their goaltender. If they hope to succeed, Saros has to be the franchise goaltender that they need and continue to build on last season’s success.

Successful support of Saros and the Predators also depends on Head Coach John Hynes,’ and GM David Poile’s ability to find a suitable backup goaltender should Rinne ultimately retire before next season begins.

Pekka Rinne

Wait. What?

Rinne has sent mixed signals about his future with the Predators and in the NHL. He is now a free agent and has yet to make his intentions for next season known.

Rinne proved that he can still be competitive in the NHL, spending last season in a backup role to Saros. He registered a 2.84 GAA, a .907 SV%, and recorded two shutouts.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would not want Rinne backing up Saros next season. It would be a bonus for Rinne to get an entire season and the proper send-off that he deserves.

If Rinne were willing to accept a team-friendly one-year contract, it would be a no-brainer for GM David Poile to re-sign him.

 Connor Ingram

As Saros has always been considered the heir-apparent to Rinne, Connor Ingram is viewed as the heir-apparent to Saros.

Ingram was one of the best AHL goaltenders during the 2019-20 season, boasting a 1.92 GAA and a 0.667 SV% in 33 games.

Ingram was steering the Admirals in a Calder Cup-winning season before the pandemic halted play, thus ending the season. Once the NHL season resumed, Ingram was placed on the Predators’ taxi squad for the playoffs in the Edmonton bubble.

Once the 2020-21 season started, Ingram was once again on the taxi squad but inevitably had to take a leave of absence from the team. Once he was ready to return, he played in five AHL games picking up only one win.

While he has yet to play in an NHL game, Ingram seems the likely candidate to back up Saros next season if Rinne retires. If Ingram is the backup, he will have his work cut out for him since he hasn’t had much time in the net since the 2019-20 AHL season.

Other Possibilities In Net

Once the 2020-21 season was announced, the Predators acquired the services of goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo with the intention of him minding the nets in the AHL. Once Ingram took his leave of absence, Kaskisuo took over on the taxi squad.

Kaskisuo has only two NHL games under his belt, one for the Maple Leafs in 2019 and one last season as a 3rd-period replacement for Rinne. He is now a free agent and hinted that he might be moving on.

If Kaskisuo is re-signed, his limited NHL experience could mean a season in net for the Milwaukee Admirals unless he has a spectacular showing in the Predators’ training camp.

If Rinne retires and Ingram isn’t ready for an NHL start, the Predators may be forced to sign a free-agent goaltender. A free agent could tide them over until Yaroslav Askarov finishes his KHL contract and is eligible to play in the NHL.

With the Predators needing to maintain cap space, there are a few budget-friendly goaltenders that they could attempt to acquire.

Some notable free-agent options include Jaroslav Halak from the Boston Bruins, Chris Driedger of the Florida Panthers, and Linus Ullmark from the Buffalo Sabres.

Spending a little more on a backup goaltender may be a good option for Nashville. If Saros gets off to a slow start next season but then builds momentum as he has in the past, the Predators will need a net-minder capable of taking over games and starting more than they usually would.

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The Predators must continue to build upon their successes of last season. Saros kept this team in many games that they should not have been in. As previously stated, a solid start to the season is needed from Saros.

While we don’t look forward to it, there is a distinct possibility that Rinne will retire before the start of next season. A new era of goaltending is on the horizon for Nashville. Management needs to ensure that both Saros and whoever backs him up are up to the task and have all of the tools they need to carry this team into the future.