Nashville Predators fans can begin this new week by breathing a huge sigh of relief. The latest news to come out of the organization is that they have avoided arbitration with Juuse Saros. The new deal is for four years at $20M ($5 million average annual value. The contains no-trade and no-move protection.
This is about what was to be expected if the two sides came to an agreement before August 18, which was supposed to be Saros’ arbitration hearing date. Goaltenders such as Philipp Grubauer, Thatcher Demko, and Igor Shesterkin got new contracts within the $5M-$6M AAV range, and Saros is similar to them in terms of his status.
He has been an NHL regular since the 2016-2017 season, and ever since then, he has only gotten better and better. He especially has made his mark in the past two seasons, as he has been lights out in their latter stages and played like a Vezina caliber goaltender.
In 2020-2021, he entered mid-March with a save percentage below .900 and a goals-against-average of above 3.00 but rebounded to finish the regular season with a .927 save percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average. He finished sixth in Vezina voting and eleventh in Hart voting, and without a doubt, he was the biggest reason why the Predators went from one of the worst teams in the NHL to a playoff team that gave the Carolina Hurricanes a run for their money.
The only legitimate criticism of Saros at this point is that his starts to seasons have not been strong as of late, which is likely the reason for David Poile being so hesitant to pay him from the start. The Predators are taking a gamble on that being fixed, but it is a good one to take. As mentioned, Saros has shown gradual improvement from year to year, and his trajectory only suggests that that will continue to happen
Their options with him were to let negotiations go to arbitration and potentially be on the hook for more money and term next offseason, or sign him for relatively cheap right now and trust him to continue to improve. Not to mention that Saros would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency next offseason, which could have made things much murkier for the Predators.
It is a good thing that they are rewarding the guy that essentially saved their season and is banking on his continued progression. If he can gain consistency, this new contract will look like a major steal.
With the negotiations between Saros and the Predators finally resolved, all that is left on Poile’s immediate priority list is signing Eeli Tolvanen. There is a good chance that drags out over the next month and changes, as he will likely have to settle for a bridge deal due to not being arbitration-eligible. Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm are still eligible for extensions but do not be surprised if negotiations carry over into the regular season.
The Saros signing makes this off-season a successful one for Poile and the Nashville Predators. Not necessarily that they are supposed to be a stronger team in the 2021-2022 season, but they have stuck to what their blueprint should have been from day one.
That blueprint includes getting younger, trading some past franchise faces, avoiding significant free agency moves, and locking up young future pieces to reasonable prices. If Forsberg and Ekholm get re-signed to team-friendly deals, that would just be the icing on the cake.
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