General Manager David Poile continued his busy Monday by re-signing back-up goaltender Juuse Saros to a three-year deal worth $4.5 million.
Locking up the restricted free agent was a key piece in assembling the puzzle of the future for Nashville. Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne has just one year left on his contract and, at 35 years old (he’ll turn 36 during the season), his longevity is becoming a realistic question. He may have just put together his best season — immediately following his best playoff — but, at some point, the hard questions that nobody wants to think about will need to be asked.
And Saros is a part of the answers.
The 23-year old Forssa, Finland native is considered by nearly everyone to be Rinne’s heir apparent. The 99th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft should’ve been drafted higher than his third round position but wasn’t due to one specific thing.
“He would’ve been a first rounder except for his size,” Poile recalled a couple summers ago. “So we said, ‘Because of his size, there’s probably some teams that won’t take him at all.’ We felt, where we took him in the draft, he was a worthwhile risk because of his talent.”
He wasn’t the only one who thought that.
“First rounder if he were six-foot-two,” scouting website Red Line Report wrote heading into that draft. “Was actually one of the three best goaltenders we saw all year. Single-handedly kept his team afloat in every game. Only thing keeping him out of the top-50 is his 5’10” height.”
It appears as if Nashville found itself yet another draft day steal.
Speaking of steal, that’s what Saros’ contract will be if he becomes the starter before the deal expires. Greg Wyshynski of ESPN tweeted Monday (perhaps half in jest) that Saros will get his first Vezina nomination while carrying a cap hit of just $1.5 million.
With a $1.5M cap hit! https://t.co/58KRhRGdis
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) July 16, 2018
Wyshynski then went on Edmonton’s TSN 1260 Tuesday to pump the team-friendly deal some more.
“That’s the kind of money an extra forward on your fourth line makes in the NHL today,” he told The Nielson Show. “So, the idea that your heir apparent to Pekka Rinne [is getting that low a number] is pretty remarkable.”
Saros went 11-5-7 last year meaning, when he was the goalie of record, Nashville secured 29 of a possible 46 points (63%) in the standings. In addition, he posted three shutouts in 2017-18 which tied him with eight others, including full-time veteran starters like Roberto Luongo in Florida, Mike Smith in Calgary and Tuukka Rask in Boston.
While he’s earned the right to dispel Rinne in more situations than just back-to-backs (of which the Preds have 10, by the way), Saros should see either his first or second start of the season come during the brief Western Canadian road trip to Calgary and Edmonton on the weekend of October 19.
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Gallagher // Penalty Box Radio (used with permission)