While Pekka Rinne remains the starter in Music City and Juuse Saros remains the heir apparent to the Nashville crease, there are plenty of question marks otherwise. With that in mind, the Nashville Predators have signed goaltender Jonas Gunnarsson to a one-year, entry-level deal in order to bolster their goaltending depth.
Gunnarsson, 24, was the starting netminder for the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League last year, posting a 2.47 goals against average and .913 save percentage. Malmo went just 15-26-5-6 and failed to make the playoffs but that was more due to their league-low 116 goals scored.
Carter Hutton had a productive year backing up Rinne, turning in a 7-5-4 record with a 2.33 GAA and a .918 SV%. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent, however, and logic suggests he’d like to see what other opportunities are out there. Could he challenge for a starting job on one of the other 29 teams? If not, could he at least find a situation in which he’d play more frequently as opposed to being stuck behind a workhorse like Rinne who wants to play every night?
With Hutton likely departing via free agency, the natural progression would be to promote 2012 sixth round pick Marek Mazanec to the back-up role. The NHL’s Rookie of the Month for November 2013 is a restricted free agent but has spent the last three years developing in the system, even seeing 27 games of NHL action in that time.
All that said, Saros went a ridiculous 29-8-4 in his first year with the Milwaukee Admirals. He split time with Mazanec this past season (Saros played 38 games, Mazanec played 39) so he doesn’t have a full-time starting North American season under his belt just yet. It would be in the organization’s best interest to anoint him the full-time starter in Milwaukee for 2016-17 and let him prove he can sustain that success over a full 76-game season. If he can, he will take his rightful place along Rinne’s side sooner rather than later.
So where does Gunnarsson fit in? Assuming Hutton’s departure and Mazanec’s promotion, the 6’2″ Eksjo, Sweden native should slot in behind Saros down in Milwaukee, a league where there are often weekends that feature three games in three nights. That would make this one-year deal a low-risk move for Nashville and a great way to give one guy (Gunnarsson) exposure to other North American teams while handing another guy (Saros) a true audition and rewarding yet another (Mazanec) for paying his dues these past few years.
PHOTO CREDIT: Stefan Persson / Bildbyrån