The NHL goalie rumor mill has been in full swing ever since the news that Connor Hellebuyck might be traded from the Winnipeg Jets.
Hellebuyck reportedly told the Jets he wasn’t interested in signing an extension with the team as he enters the last year of his deal and approaches unrestricted free agency. Other netminders have also been mentioned as potential trade targets, such as Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers.
One name no one expected to hear in the rumor mill was Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators. A recent Yahoo Sports article mentioned Saros as a goalie that might be available but also acknowledged the Predators might decide against the notion. The writer, James O’Brien, says in the article that he believes trading Saros is best for the Predators.
Trading Saros would take away any chance of contention for the Predators.
Saros, like Hellebuyck, has the potential to be a “franchise goalie”, to borrow the distinction from Yahoo Sports. The Predators barely missed the playoffs this year, even after being sellers at the deadline and dealing with injuries in their lineup. What would be the argument for, and against, dealing Saros?
Now might be the best time to trade Saros and get the best return. Saros has a beyond-manageable cap hit of $5 million for the next two seasons. Having two years left on his deal may make him a more attractive trade target than Hellebuyck.
The expectation is that whoever Hellebuyck gets traded to will be getting him with a contract extension, keeping him with his new team for more than one season.
However, the remaining two years on Saros’s deal locks him into that beautiful $5 million price tag for an extra year while Hellebuyck is likely to want an Andrei Vasilevskiy-like AAV in the area of $8.5 million.
Saros also has a slight edge on Hellebuyck in the age department, being two years younger.
Trading Saros would be a potential disaster for the Predators. I’ve mentioned before that the Predators have a top forward in Fillip Forsberg, an elite defenseman in Roman Josi, and an elite netminder in Saros, giving them key pieces in all three areas of the lineup.
This is a team that seems more primed for a “reset” instead of a full-on rebuild. The recent hiring of Andrew Brunette, who has had postseason stops in his last two coaching gigs, makes you think the playoffs are an expectation next year for Nashville.
Taking away Saros would be the beginning of deconstructing Nashville’s roster and any hope of reaching the playoffs in the immediate future. The Predators have a new general manager in Barry Trotz, and perhaps he is embracing the full-scale rebuild his recently retired predecessor Dave Poile wanted to avoid.
It would be a stunning reversal of course for a team that still has a lot of talent.
Nashville does have Yaroslav Askarov playing in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals. Askarov put up impressive numbers with Milwaukee with a 2.69 goals against average and a 0.911 save percentage.
Organizations like to play the waiting game when it comes to developing goaltenders and the “rule of thumb” is it takes about five years of development to make them NHL-ready. Askarov was a 2020 draft pick, so following that “five-year” idea, he would be ready to take over Nashville’s crease in 2025.
The idea of him being a potential replacement and still having years of team control at a more cost-friendly valuation than Saros in free agency might make the Predators consider a different path going forward in net.
Nashville could trade Saros for a small king’s ransom of draft capital and prospects, which would accelerate a full-on rebuild that would help the long-term outlook of the franchise. That, of course, is the alternative to “resetting” the roster to try to immediately make the playoffs this upcoming year, which would only help the franchise in the short term.
Goalies like Saros don’t grow on trees, and it’s clear Nashville appreciates his contributions to the team. There’s nothing to suggest they’ve even entertained the idea of moving Saros.
If they change their mind, and if they think Askarov will be NHL-ready in a season or two, there definitely would be a great return. That might be enough to change first-year general manager Barry Trotz’s mind.