A Look at Free Agent Goaltenders

If Pekka Rinne chooses retirement, who should play with Juuse Saros in 2021-2022?

Pekka Rinne might have skated off the ice at Bridgestone Arena for the last time. That’s a hard sentence to type.

However, in that last regular-season outing for Rinne, the big Finn posted a massive shutout against the Carolina Hurricanes. Neither GM David Poile nor the 2021 King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner Rinne have confirmed his retirement. It’s possible, though, that #35 no longer wants to play hockey.

Juuse Saros has solidified himself as the Nashville Predators’ starting netminder. Rinne was quite content to play second fiddle to young Saros, providing mentorship, competition, and encouragement. Rinne brought the Predators through a tough stretch mid-season when Saros was out with a presumed concussion. His shutout in May showed us that he still has some game, even though the 39-year-old has been the backup goaltender for the better part of two seasons.

If Pekka Rinne retires, which free agent goaltenders might Nashville try to snag to back up Saros? I’ll add this—Connor Ingram will be a very serviceable NHL goalie. However, he saw very little action in 2020-2021 after returning from the League’s player assistance program this spring. Ingram saw five starts and his stats varied from stellar to confusing. Ingram absolutely needs to be Milwaukee’s starting goalie this season, skating in a majority of contests.

So...about those free agent goalies that Nashville could grab to back up Saros...

Troy Grosenick

The 31-year-old Grosenick has been a Nashville Predator/Milwaukee Admiral before. He was most recently with the Los Angeles Kings. He skated in two games in 2020-2021. Would he be interested in a one-year deal to back up Juuse Saros? He has familiarity with Nashville already.

Antti Raanta

I’ve been a Raanta fan since his days in New York. His body of work behind a weak Arizona Coyotes squad should speak for itself. He’s played behind Henrik Lundqvist, too. Would he want to play in Nashville and take a 60-40 workload with Juuse Saros? Raanta is only 32 and a Saros-Raanta combo could easily win Nashville their first Jennings Trophy. In my opinion, a Saros-Raanta tandem would be very close to rivalling the tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner in Las Vegas.

Raanta would be smart to explore some free agency options. He should be on the radar for any NHL team looking for a more-than-reliable backup. Further, I’d trust Raanta to hold down the net for the Predators if Saros were to become injured. He’s quite skilled with the “scorpion save”—see below.

The only issue I could see with Raanta would be the issue of salary. He’s coming off a 3-year, $12.75 million deal...that’s $4.25 million annually. Nashville probably does not have the extra cash to lock up Raanta unless he takes a considerable pay cut. Does Nashville want an expensive backup to Saros while Ingram marinates in Milwaukee?

Linus Ullmark

With Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen waiting in the wings, the Buffalo Sabres don’t seem to have a plan of action for Linus Ullmark any longer. Dustin Tokarski will likely pair up with Lukkonen, so where does that leave Ullmark? The Swede needs a new contract.

A deal for Ullmark could be a “tryout” deal for another team looking to pick up a backup goalie in the next few seasons. He could be signed for a reasonable price for one or two seasons and get his groove back after too many seasons in the hell that is Buffalo.

Ullmark is somewhat under-the-radar. He’s only 27, but he’s had plenty of experience holding down the net for the weak Sabres. Unfortunately, he’s missed a ton of games due to various injuries. That’s always a concern.

Ullmark was 9-6-3 over 20 games last season, posting a nice .917 Sv%. Ullmark is another candidate to split games with Juuse Saros in a 60-40 fashion...if Preds management chooses to create a goalie tandem. Ullmark is monstrously tall, and he could also provide very steady goaltending in Saros’s absence.

Here’s a very nice desperation save from Ullmark against Nashville in January 2020:

Louis Domingue

A rare southpaw goalie, Domingue has played for several NHL squads—Arizona, Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Vancouver, and Calgary. He’s 29 years old.

Domingue could be signed for a reasonable price. With the exception of the Tampa Bay Lightning, he hasn’t played for very good teams. His numbers are all over the place. He won over 20 games as Tampa Bay’s backup in 2018-2019, but he was abysmal with the New Jersey Devils (3-8-2)—reflective of how the skaters played in front of him. How might he perform in a gold jersey?

Honorable Mentions

James Reimer — Reimer looks to be on the outside in Carolina after Alex Nedeljkovic’s stellar rookie season. “Ned” and Petr Mrázek will likely be Carolina’s goalies for next season and beyond, leaving Reimer seeking a new home.

David Rittich — Rittich played for both the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs in 2020-2021, but his numbers weren’t anything noteworthy. He’s only 28. Could he be a short-term fit in Nashville?

Anders Nilsson — Nilsson was acquired by Tampa Bay at the beginning of last season, but he remained on LTIR... Nilsson hasn’t played in a NHL game since 2020 with the Ottawa Senators. His numbers with Ottawa weren’t bad (9-9-2, .908 Sv%). The 31-year-old Swede would be a great backup option for Nashville if he’s healthy and looking for a new team.

My vote goes to Antti Raanta, but only if he signs for a reasonable cap hit. What do you think, OTFers?

Choose a UFA goalie to back up Juuse Saros in 2021-2022.

Antti Raanta84
Troy Grosenick15
Louis Domingue1
Linus Ullmark27
James Reimer20
David Rittich6
Anders Nilsson5