Nashville Predators Must Handle Goaltending Situation Carefully at Trade Deadline

The Predators are expected to lean towards selling at the trade deadline, but what does that mean for their stable of goalies?
Juuse Saros #74 Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros #74 Nashville Predators / David Berding/GettyImages
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The 2024 NHL Trade Deadline is inching closer and closer, and the Nashville Predators will have to make some decisions soon. Even with the team coming off of two consecutive wins, they still look like they are going to be sellers, and have a particularly important decision to make with Juuse Saros.

At this point, with the outlook of the Predators and Yaroslav Askarov killing it for the Milwaukee Admirals, it is hard not to like the idea of trading Saros. Even in what has been a down year by his standards, Saros would still fetch a nice package from a playoff team looking for better goaltending, and Askarov would obviously be much cheaper in the present and future.

That being said, if the Predators do indeed pull the trigger on a trade of Saros, they have to be responsible with how they handle it. More specifically, they would be wise to make sure Askarov is not in a situation where he has to be heavily relied on in Nashville during the remainder of this season.

Predators should try to keep Askarov in Milwaukee until next season

Askarov was drafted 11th overall by the Predators in 2020 and was regarded as one of the better goaltending prospects the league had seen in a very long time. So far, he has done everything he can to live up to that hype.

Askarov has played a little under a year and a half of the North American game, and given his base numbers and the eye test, he has steadily improved. He posted a 2.69 goals against average and .911 save percentage in the AHL last year, and both of those have improved this year to a 2.12 goals against average and .920 save percentage.

The sample size for Askarov in the NHL is much smaller, but seems to reflect the trajectory he is on. He started one game in the 2022-23 season, and although he was far from terrible, it was hard to describe him as anything better than ok in that outing.

Askarov has played two total games so far in the current season, one of which was an actual start, and in that start, Predators fans had to be encouraged. He looked composed as he was not surprised by anything he was facing, and picked up the win with only two goals against and a .931 save percentage.

Everyone who watched came out of that game with the same sentiment as before -- the future is bright for the kid. Several people have even used the phrase "toying with" to describe how he is playing in the AHL this year, and while he seems like he would be able to come up to the NHL in a backup role, that would not be the smartest move at this moment.

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Keeping him put would certainly not be an attempt to coddle him, but it is a very real thing that you cannot rush the development of NHL prospects, especially goaltenders. I do not think making Askarov the full time backup would be the worst thing for his development, but it certainly would not be optimal.

Askarov already has a great thing going in Milwaukee, and letting him stay there and potentially for a deep playoff run would not only boost the confidence that everyone has in him, but that he has in himself. It would be more good experience to build off of, whereas if he comes to Nashville for the rest of the season, he might struggle, and in that case, we would be asking questions that we otherwise would not be.

If the Predators do sell at the deadline and Saros is included, they are clearly waiving the white flag on the season and preparation for the future takes any precedence over 2023-24 success. Askarov's development is part of that future, and there is not a scenario in which he would not be better off just staying in his current role.

What is the Contingency Plan if Predators Do Trade Saros?

Yaroslav Askarov, Milwaukee Admirals
Milwaukee Admirals goaltender Yaroslav Askarov celebrates with left wing Egor Afanasyev and center / Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal

That is a good question to ask, because if Saros is indeed traded, the Predators have an open goaltending spot that will have to be filled. They certainly do not have anyone else immediately in Nashville, and there is not a viable replacement to be found in Milwaukee.

It is a bit tough because there would only be one way the Predators could address this, but they would be all but forced to acquire a backup caliber goaltender in a trade of Saros. Even with that being the only option in this scenario, it is likely that it would happen.

Teams in the NHL these days normally carry two and only two goaltenders at a time, so if someone trades for Saros, they will almost surely have to part with a goaltender. And what would be a more convenient option for these teams than simply including that goaltender in the trade?

Of course, the Predators would not want to lock themselves into an actual commitment for one of these backup caliber goaltenders, but looking at the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, and Los Angeles Kings, maybe the three biggest suitors for Saros, each has a goaltender with a contract that expires at the end of this season.

The Predators would gladly take one of them and have them split starts with Kevin Lankinen for the remainder of the season. Whichever one played better would then most likely split starts with Askarov next year, making the rest of this season a cool audition in that regard.

As previously mentioned, it is unlikely that either the Predators or Askarov himself suffer from him having to come up to the NHL after the Trade Deadline this year. But making sure he stays in his current spot would be the most advantageous situation for everyone, and it would be doable if a Saros trade happened, so hopefully Barry Trotz is smart in how he handles it.

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