Pekka Rinne is one of the best goaltenders in the world. He gives the Nashville Predators a chance to win every night, often keeping them in games they have no right to be in. Signed through the 2019 season, Rinne will no doubt be their workhorse for as long as the organization wants him to.
Behind him, however, is a different story.
Realistically, the Predators have four options in net next year: re-sign Carter Hutton, sign a backup in the offseason, call up Marek Mazanec full time or call up Magnus Hellberg full time.
Free agency is probably the last course the team should take, but the crop of UFA goaltenders will be decently deep this summer. There are a number of names that will no doubt be fetching a ton of money as starters and a few others that could be very good backups. If the Predators decide they want to go that route they could look at someone like Justin Peters who has put up good numbers on the underachieving Carolina Hurricanes. Al Montoya, who is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets, could also be someone to be counted on for a handful (about 20) of starts. Statistically, Montoya hasn’t put up the greatest numbers, but Nashville goaltending coach Mitch Korn has a scary good track record of pulling the highest potential out of his goalies.
Of course, one of the upcoming free agents already resides in the locker room. Hutton was a curious signing last year because of his lack of NHL experience (only one game prior to this season). That inexperience was made all the more glaring when Rinne went down to injury very early in the season. Though he’s excelled at times, he’s also struggled just as much. For a while he lost his job to the rookie Mazanec, and once after a game head coach Barry Trotz said his play is “not good enough for this league.”
Yet through all of that he at least has the trust of the organization. Even when they acquired Devan Dubnyk they barely gave him a look in favor of Hutton. Smart money would be on the organization bringing him back for at least another year, whether fans like it or not.
However, they still have two top notch goalie prospects in Mazanec and Hellberg. Mazanec wowed the hockey world with some fantastic play in November, winning Rookie of the Month honors in his first taste of big league action. The team ran him for 11 straight games, which seemed to eventually wear him out as time went on, and he was assigned back to Milwaukee when Dubnyk joined the team. Hellberg was called up even before Mazanec was but only saw the ice in a relief appearance.
If the Predators wanted to bring one of them up for the duration next season, the best thing to do would be to choose Mazanec and trade Hellberg. It’s a little ridiculous how stocked Nashville is with goalie prospects, and there are only so many players who can play. Trading Hellberg wouldn’t be an indictment of his play, but rather spreading the wealth to acquire something that could benefit the team.
The good news is that Nashville has options in net. They need to think about the upcoming draft and how they are going to bring a scorer or two to Music City, but shoring up the backup position is just as important. After all, they don’t want to have another situation like they did this year.