Nashville Predators: The State Of Goaltending Post Rinne

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 /

By now, everyone has heard that Pekka Rinne announced his retirement from the NHL and bid farewell to the Nashville Predators, the only team for which he has ever played.

Rinne’s 15-year career earned him the distinction of being one of Nashville’s most beloved sports figures and one of the top goaltenders in the NHL.

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Rinne’s last game in Bridgestone Arena, where he earned a 30-save shutout and a standing ovation from the faithful fans, was the perfect ending to Rinne’s storied career with the Predators.

Once the dust settles from Rinne’s retirement announcement, the Predators will have some work to do. With Juuse Saros being the main man in Nashville now, GM David Poile and Heach Coach John Hynes must find a suitable backup for Saros at the goaltender position.

However, the Predators’ cupboards are a bit bare at the moment in regards to goaltenders. So let’s take a look at some of the prospects that are in the system for Nashville.

Players In The System

Tomas Vomacka (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Tomas Vomacka (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Two of the Predators’ prospects, Ethan Haider and Tomas Vomacka, are in the midst of their college hockey careers. Haider will be entering his sophomore year at Clarkson University. In the Fall, Vomacka will become a junior at the University of Connecticut.

Both Haider and Vomacka still have a ways to go in their hockey journey. Neither seems to be quite ready to take the next step in their development, which would more than likely mean a stint in Milwaukee.

Devin Cooley spent the majority of last season minding the nets for Predators’ affiliate Florida Everblades. Kasimir Kaskisuo, who will be playing in Europe next season, moved to the taxi squad last season, so Cooley also played in two games for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL.

In the two games for the Wolves, both wins, Cooley made 51 saves but allowed a combined six goals. In his 22 starts with the Everblades, Cooley had a GAA of 2.95 and a 0.895 SV%. It appears that Cooley will need a bit more development as well.

Yaroslav Askarov could probably make a splash as a backup for Saros next season if he were able. However, Aksarov has one more year on his KHL contract before he is eligible to jump to the AHL or the NHL.

Askarov was the 11th overall pick in last season’s NHL Entry Draft. Lots of fans are looking forward to seeing him in a Predators jersey. Once he is eligible, I see Askarov quickly rising up the ranks within Nashville’s system.

That brings us to the final player in the Predators’ prospect pool.

Is Connor Ingram Ready For The Next Step With The Nashville Predators?

Connor Ingram (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Connor Ingram (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Before the 2020-21 season, Connor Ingram was one of the best goaltenders in the AHL. He was coming off of a very successful season in Milwaukee. Had the season not been cut short, Ingram would have more than likely hoisted the Calder Trophy with the Admirals.

With his participation in the Edmonton bubble and the 2020-21 taxi squad, it appeared that Ingram was well on his way to an NHL roster on a post-Rinne Predators team.

However, Ingram’s progression took a turn when The Predators announced that he would be entering the NHL’s player assistance program for an undisclosed issue. Once out of the program, he came back in time to start five games for the Wolves at the end of the season, picking up one win, three losses, and a tie.

Nashville’s Options For Next Season

With Rinne’s retirement announcement, the Predators only have two options for a backup, sign a free-agent goaltender or move Ingram into the role.

Poile may have given us an indication of what his plans are for the backup role next season. While being interviewed at Rinne’s retirement announcement, Poile was asked about Ingram by John Glennon of Broadway Sports.

Refreshing news for Ingram fans as it appears that he is ready to proceed with his hockey career. With this upcoming training session, Ingram has a golden opportunity to take the reigns and become a part of Nashville’s goaltender core along with Saros.

However, the clock is ticking. If Poile has to look towards free agency for a backup goaltender, he will need to move quickly. The NHL’s Free Agency period begins on July 28. That means that Poile will have ten days to assess Ingram and decide which course to take.

There are several free-agent goaltenders on the market for Poile to choose from if the need arises. Jaroslav Halak and Chris Driedger are two names at the top of my list. Another higher-priced option would be Petr Mrazek, but he may command more as a UFA than Poile would want to spend.

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What Ingram does in the next couple of weeks while training will more than likely decide where he will be playing next season. If the training goes well, we may see him on the Predators’ roster in October. If not, Milwaukee will be his destination, and a free agent will be Saros’ backup.

There is no doubt that Ingram is a talented goaltender. However, we must remember that he didn’t play much at all last season. That is a long stretch without any games, and frankly, I could see it hampering him.

We all know Saros will be starting the majority of the games next season. However, we also know that sometimes Saros’ season gets off to a slow start. For this reason, a veteran, free-agent goaltender should be found as soon as possible so that Poile and Hynes will have a little insurance should they need it.