It’s not too difficult to predict how the Nashville Predators’ net is going to look this season. While we spent a large amount of time debating when it would be “time” for Rinne to take fewer starts at the beginning of last season, the starts and responsibility started to move away from #35 around December 2019.
After Peter Laviolette was fired and John Hynes was hired, it seemed that Juuse Saros became Hynes’ go-to in net. Saros, after another rough fall, began to post very solid numbers from January to March before the season shut down for the coronavirus pandemic.
Saros also was “the guy” for Nashville in the very brief play-in round against Arizona. His numbers weren’t stellar, but neither was the rest of the team.
This season, Nashville will have to carry a third goaltender on the “taxi” squad to support the roster goaltenders in the case of injury or illness. Further, without the Admirals playing in this year’s abbreviated AHL season, it’s looking like the “fourth”-string goaltender might be playing for the Chicago Wolves, the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate. Confusing, right? Let’s take a look here:
Saros is 25 years old and has been with the Predators for four seasons. As I mentioned earlier, he became the go-to guy around January 2020, seeing the bulk of starts before the Predators played their last game of the shortened season against the Montreal Canadiens.
Reasons to Get Excited: Otherworldly play from Saros was putting the Predators on an upward trajectory before the season shut down in March 2020. Simply put, the kid was playing incredible hockey. If he can regain that form, he will give the Predators a solid chance to compete.
Possible Struggles: Rebound control. Without diving into the numbers regarding Saros’s rebound issues, it’s pretty apparent that his inability to control the puck can end up pretty poorly. His size has always been a subject of debate, and this season is where we might get a final idea of what Saros’s future in net might look like.
It’s somewhat weird not listing Pekka Rinne first on this list, but it’s a hard truth. Rinne is no longer the starting netminder for the Nashville Predators. The 38 year-old Finn will be a free agent at the end of the season, and it’s likely that Rinne opts for retirement. This abbreviated season might be Rinne’s last in the NHL.
You absolutely can’t forget about this:
Reasons to Get Excited: An abbreviated season would allow Rinne to shoulder less of a workload. A less tired Rinne might give the Predators an edge in the playoffs, and a reliable 1A/1B tandem is certainly going to be a requirement to succeed. Does Rinne play better when he’s taking 25-ish starts instead of 40 starts? We will have to wait and see.
Possible Struggles: Age. Has Rinne’s age caught up to him? It’s pretty clear the elder (eldest?) Finn keeps himself in im-Pekka-able shape (I had to), but age is not friendly to professional athletes, much less NHL goalies. He’s an undisputed leader in the Nashville locker room, and this could be the “do it for Pekka” season we’ve been looking for.
Ingram has a new three-year contract with Nashville after splitting the season in Milwaukee with Troy Grosenick. Ingram put up some stellar numbers with the Admirals, going 21-5-5 in 2019-20.
He’s the obvious choice for the required third goaltender for the Predators this season. If he were to slot into a game or two for Nashville, we might finally see how Ingram looks against NHL competition. He will most certainly be eager to prove his worth with the organization.
Reasons to Get Excited: The Predators nearly stole Ingram from the Tampa Bay Lightning after Ingram had a falling-out with the coaching staff of their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. He could have a “Jordan Binnington” rise to stardom if he’s called into NHL action and provides reliable goaltending for the Predators. Bonus points if he’s in net for any sort of playoff run.
Possible Struggles: Ingram has played exactly 0 NHL contests. He served as a backup in 2019-20, but Ingram has no experience in a NHL net. Could he get there this season? The answer should BE “yes.” This is the perfect season to try Ingram out for a few starts to see what the kid can do.
Kaskisuo is the likely “odd man out” and will only be a recall option in a dire situation this season. Kaskisuo was placed on waivers on Saturday and will probably spend the season as part of the goaltending tandem for the Chicago Wolves. I’m not entirely sure what Carolina’s goaltending pipeline looks like, but Kaskisuo might be able to split starts with Carolina’s AHL goalie talent.
Personally, I’m really excited to have Kaskisuo in the organization. He’s a great personality with a solid work ethic and a great AHL body of work. Depending on how the goalie situation shakes out for next season (Rinne’s potential retirement), Kaskisuo could be the starter for the Admirals in a “normal” season.
Reasons to Get Excited: Kaskisuo is an interesting personality. He has his own YouTube channel and is very active on Instagram and Twitter. He spent a few years with Toronto as part of the Marlies, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate. Kaskisuo saw NHL action last season against Pittsburgh...
Possible Struggles: ...but he let in 6 goals. Kaskisuo is otherwise untested at the NHL level, similar to Ingram. He was looking at being Milwaukee’s main netminder this season, but with the Admirals opting out of the 2021 season, Kaskisuo could be fighting for ice time in Chicago. He's on a one-year, two-way deal with the Predators and will also be looking to prove himself to the organization.