Juuse Saros

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Turris trade shows Predators are going all-in for Stanley Cup

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If there was any doubt, acquiring and then extending Kyle Turris made this clear: the Nashville Predators are going all-in to win a Stanley Cup. Parting ways with two very promising prospects is just part of why they’re in win-now mode (or something close to it).

The tantalizing thing for Nashville is that they now boast arguably the most complete roster in the NHL, at least with a healthy Ryan Ellis and Nick Bonino.

  • The quartet of Ellis, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm probably still stands as the class of the league. If not, they’re so close you have to squint to see the difference against who’s better.
  • Suddenly, the Predators look deep at forward, especially at center.

Predators GM David Poile might be right when he calls Turris “one of the best two-way centers” in the NHL. Peter Laviolette must be getting his mad science lab ready for this – or at least cleaning out his line blender? – as Turris generates a domino effect that could help other forwards.

Ryan Johansen gets some support, which shouldn’t be underrated as his numbers have suffered a bit this season, even as his line with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson remains lethal.

[Breaking down blockbuster Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris trade]

Turris can make a second line more dangerous with the likes of Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith, or perhaps Laviolette gets even more experimental than that? Either way, when healthy, Bonino seems like a much better fit as a third-line center. Other teams might have more dynamic forward groups, but the Predators no longer lack that necessary punch to win games.

Honestly, if I were David Poile, I’d consider trying to sign pending RFA Saros to a bargain extension, possibly allowing Saros to become the Matt Murray to Rinne’s Marc-Andre Fleury.

Big decisions coming (and big bargains going away)

With Turris in tow, the Predators are locked into several players for at least four years: Turris, Johansen, Forsberg, Arvidsson, Bonino, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Calle Jarnkrok. According to Cap Friendly, the Predators have $53.1M going to 12 players in 2019-20 and $43.1M to just eight in 2020-21.

Some of those contracts are outright steals, but even so, those commitments may force others out, eventually. There are some key choices coming soon, making it that much more obvious for Nashville to go win-now.

Significant names expiring after 2018-19: Pekka Rinne, Ryan Ellis, and Kevin Fiala (Fiala will be an RFA).

With a $2.5M cap hit, Ryan Ellis ranks as one of the NHL’s most staggering bargains. These are the types of deals that give you an edge, but it’s ending soon, and you can’t begrudge Ellis if he wants to get paid what he’s worth. That might end up being too much for Nashville.

Then again, Rinne’s $7M expires in the same summer of 2019. Poile must determine what to do with Saros and Rinne, and those net deadlines aren’t far away.

Key deals expiring after 2019-20: Roman Josi and Craig Smith.

Much like Ellis, Josi is a bargain at $4M, but that goes away in three seasons.

Maybe Poile is just planning to move money from the likes of Rinne and Smith to the likes of Ellis, Josi, and Saros? Even if that works out, the point is that Nashville would possibly need to go top-heavy, losing some of the edge they have now.

Poile is pushing the right buttons

The overall point is not that the Predators can only complete for a title between now and 2018-19 or 2019-20.

We’ve seen teams enjoy deep runs when it seemed like their peaks passed; it’s easy to forget that the 2015-16 San Jose Sharks were far from a favorite to represent the West when they did.

Still, the Predators can look to other champions to see some examples of small windows of bargains paying off. When their rival the Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in decades, they did it as rookie contracts were expiring for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Poile seems shrewd enough to keep his Predators in the thick of things for a while, but from here, the next few years represent Nashville’s biggest window to win it all. From there, their ceiling could get shorter.

MORE: Turris on Ottawa contract talks: ‘very apparent things weren’t going to work out’

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: The scariest goalie masks in history

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–The Pittsburgh Tribune looks at five things we’ve learned from Pittsburgh’s early struggles. The issues they have this year aren’t the same as last year’s. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

–Earlier this season, Mark Streit and the Montreal Canadiens parted ways after a short time together. Now, the Swiss defenseman has announced his retirement from professional hockey. (Swisshockeynews.ch)

–ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski lists the 15 scariest goalie masks in NHL history. Gary Bromley would’ve received my vote, but he finished second on the list, while Rangers goalie Gilles Gratton was number one. (ESPN.com)

Steve Mason added some spooky details to his new goalie mask. The Jets goalie has some of his teammates as zombies pictured on his new lid. (NHL.com)

Brian Boyle is getting ready to return to the Devils lineup for the first time since being diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. How will New Jersey use him? “Eventually, with a guy like him, you’ve just got to put him in. He’s done all the rehab, all the individual skates and now he’s had some consecutive practices. As long as he reacts well, we’re going to put him in soon.” (northjersey.com)

–Predators backup goalie Juuse Saros had a good season between the NHL and AHL last season, but he’s really come out of the gate slowly this year. Keep in mind, he’s still 22 years old, so there’s no need to panic just yet. (predlines.com)

–The Sabres have a four-day break in the schedule, which should give them an opportunity to clean up parts of their game. “We’re tied with the most games played up to this point. So it’s a good time to get a break, a good time to change the mood after a disappointing loss (Saturday) and just try to reset and get fresh for the week ahead,” said head coach Phil Housley. (buffalohockeybeat.com)

Nathan Walker was one of Washington’s best players in training camp. Unfortunately for him, that hasn’t given him much of an opportunity to play this season. Barry Trotz’s explanation as to why he’s not playing Walker also doesn’t really add up. (russianmachineneverbreaks.com)

–Team USA hockey player Meghan Duggan shares her musical play list with ESPN.com. There’s some Krewella, OneRepublic and even some Rihanna on there. (ESPN.com)

–There’s plenty of moves that have yet to pan out for their respective teams. The Coyotes went out and got new players like Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers, but it hasn’t resulted in many victories. Here are some off-season moves that just haven’t worked out yet. (spectorhockey.net)

–On the flip side, The Score looks at four players that are off to great starts in their new cities. Patrick Marleau is off to a nice start with the Maple Leafs and Mike Smith has been solid between the pipes for Calgary. (The Score)

–There are so many different ways for a young player to make it to the NHL, but there isn’t just one way. Hannah Stuart looks at the different ways that hockey players can develop into regular NHLers. (fanragsports.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Lundqvist sharp, Rangers scrappy against Predators to end slump

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Is it melodramatic to say that the New York Rangers needed this one?

Whatever weight you put on it, the Rangers finally broke a troubling five-game losing streak, managing a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Predators saw a streak end in their own right, as they had been on a 4-0-1 run.

MORE: Rangers are still in for a steep climb in the Metro

As much as this was a confidence-booster, it was sometimes a sleepy afternoon effort by the Rangers. After generating a 2-0 lead in the first period, New York snoozed at times, only firing six shots on goal on Juuse Saros during the final 40 minutes.

Whether it came down to sitting on a lead or the Predators pressing on the gas, Henrik Lundqvist had to be alert at times in stopping 23 of 25 shots. One of his best efforts came in snubbing Colton Sissons in close:

In winning his 407th career regular-season game, Lundqvist tied Glenn Hall for ninth all-time in NHL history.

The Rangers were opportunistic on Saturday, a positive sign for a team that hasn’t always been getting the bounces early in 2017-18.

Kevin Hayes exerted his will at times, assisting on the Rangers’ opening goal and powering past Matt Irwin for what would stand as the game-winner:

Impressive stuff by Hayes, even if it was almost an equally lousy showing by Irwin.

Ryan Ellis is clearly missed by Nashville, but moments like Irwin’s lapse and Alexei Emelin flailing badly on the opening goal make one wonder why, exactly, Samuel Girard isn’t getting more looks after some promising early showings. With Irwin and Yannick Weber logging less than 11 minutes on Saturday, both P.K. Subban (27:55) and Roman Josi (27:31) flirted with 28-minute workloads despite the contest ending in regulation.

The Predators likely cringed a little extra at the empty-net goal since it came via former Preds prospect Jimmy Vesey:

If the Rangers want to get back on track, they’ll need to win in a number of ways, even if they’re not always pretty ones like this one was.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Despite impressive young core, Predators need Rinne to step up again next season

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This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

Pekka Rinne wasn’t unbeatable in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. But by the time Nashville completed its sweep of the Blackhawks, his opponents from Chicago may have felt that way.

He gave up only three goals in four games versus Chicago, and while he didn’t maintain that torrid puckstopping pace throughout the playoffs, he was an integral member of the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

It was great for Rinne, who has been with Nashville since his selection in the 2004 NHL Draft.

It was in the final series where he struggled with consistency.

He was excellent in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, as the Predators evened the series. He was good again in Game 6 but was unlucky on what would be the Stanley Cup winning goal to Pittsburgh. It was in Games 1, 2 and 5 that Rinne struggled, allowing a combined 11 goals against on 45 shots faced and getting the hook early in the fifth game. It was a strange, up-and-down way to end the playoffs during a two-month stretch when Rinne was otherwise excellent.

The Predators certainly have the makings of a team that can compete for the Western Conference title again next season, with an impressive young core group of forwards and a dangerous blue line, particularly with their top four.

Where things could get interesting is in goal.

Rinne turns 35 years old in November and has two more years remaining on his contract, with an annual $7 million cap hit.

He’s been the workhorse in Nashville for years. Since the 2010-11 season, Rinne has on five occasions played 60 or more games in a single season, reaching 73 games played in 2011-12. He’s averaged almost 64 games played over the last three years, and even during the lockout shortened year, he played in almost 90 per cent of the Predators’ regular season games.

It’s been well documented in the analytics community (check out some pieces here and here) that goalies start to decline through their 30s.

Goalies like Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller — all in their mid to late 30s — have all been relied on heavily earlier in their careers and their respective teams certainly benefited. Luongo had four consecutive seasons with 70-plus starts, as did Lundqvist. That’s a lot of mileage. The days of such usage appear to be in the rear view mirror, according to Habs goalie coach Stephane Waite last month when he discussed the need for a capable back-up in order to give the starter some rest, to keep them refreshed.

These playoffs put the Predators right in the spot light, revealing to a greater audience just how good this team was and could still be over the next few years. It revealed that, when at the top of his game, Rinne could be spectacular. Nashville is still going to need him to help the franchise in achieving its goals next season.

But he also isn’t getting any younger.

Last season, 22-year-old Juuse Saros played in 21 games, posting a .923 save percentage in that time.

It may benefit the Predators in the long run to give their back-up an increase in playing time to keep Rinne refreshed throughout the season.

Predators are one Johansen deal away from a salary cap work of art

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If you need to kill some time, play this game: which Nashville Predators contract is the biggest steal?

If Viktor Arvidsson is as much of a difference-maker as his limited NHL reps indicate, his $4.25 million cap hit over seven years is certainly in the running. Still, there are plenty of choices.

  • The defense alone is bargain-filled, making P.K. Subban‘s $9 million cap hit easy to stomach.

Ryan Ellis‘ $2.5 million cap hit doesn’t run out until after 2018-19. Mattias Ekholm‘s less of a “well-kept secret” following Nashville’s run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, yet his $3.75M steal runs through 2021-22. Roman Josi can be a bit polarizing but at $4M for three more seasons, it’s not controversial to say that he’s probably at least worth the money.

  • The offensive bargains begin with the top line.

Arvidsson has the makings of a legit first-line winger, and that deal is highly likely to be regrettable … for his agent and accountant.

Filip Forsberg‘s $6M isn’t as audacious as some of those defensive steals, but it’s still pretty nice. That total also makes it easier for the Predators to try to control costs for their one remaining big consideration: Ryan Johansen, who still needs a deal as an RFA.

  • Calle Jarnkrok is a pretty nifty get at $2M per season, especially if he grows with a contract that runs through 2021-22.
  • Scott Hartnell took quite the homecoming discount at $1M for 2017-18.
  • As you go deeper, the Predators enjoy some nice deals on players who are under ELC’s or second contracts: Kevin Fiala ($863K), Frederick Gaudreau ($667K), Pontus Aberg ($650K) and Colton Sissons ($625K) could all be helpful contributors at low costs.

This tweet really sells the point, in case this post hasn’t: GM David Poile hasn’t been slowing down much since being named GM of the Year. And he might just be the best executive in the NHL right now.

  • It’s all pretty immaculate; even if you’re not a fan of Pekka Rinne, his $7 million cap hit expires in two seasons. By then, the Predators could very well transition to Juuse Saros, possibly echoing the Penguins with Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray along the way.

Overall, it’s an enviable situation, as Nashville’s clean cap ranks with Pittsburgh and few others as the best-looking in the NHL. That’s especially true when you consider the fact that the Lightning are allocating $8.8 million to the shaky duo of former Rangers in Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.

***

Still, the Predators aren’t done for the summer, as Johansen stands as a tricky situation. They don’t have the helpful deadline of arbitration looming, so the two sides are just going to have to figure something out … eventually.

Even so, Cap Friendly pegs them at $13.43 million in cap space, so they have room to work with their first-line center.

While teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks stocked up on high draft picks, the Predators’ greatest moves have largely come through shrewd drafting, savvy trades, and forward-thinking contract extensions. One can debate which setup is the best, but Poile’s work places Nashville in the upper crust, and their built to stay there for years to come.

Related: Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel could help Penguins compete for years.