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Saros Likely Prepared To Wait For Goalie Market To Set

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Photo of Juuse Saros by John Russell/Nashville Predators

This afternoon Elliotte Friedman made his weekly appearance on 102.5 The Game on the Caroline, Willy, and D-Mase show where he discussed something that has been a hot topic issue for the local market and Nashville Predators fans as well as the overall NHL: What is next for goaltender Juuse Saros

Saros is eligible for an extension this summer as he enters his last season of a four-year, $20 million contract ($5M AAV) he signed with the Predators in August 2021. 

As we approach July 1,  two notable goaltenders become eligible for extensions, Saros and New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. 

According to Friedman and along the lines of what I wrote about Saros in February as the NHL trade deadline approached, Saros’ agent Kevin Epp of Titan Sports Management is likely ready to wait to see how the Rangers handle Shesterkin to set a new baseline for this summer. Both Shesterkin and Saros are undoubtedly eyeing Connor Hellebuyck’s term and value to start. The Winnipeg Jets ignited the reset for the goaltending market when they re-signed Hellbuyck to a seven-year, $59.5M contract ($8.5M AAV) in October 2023 with a no-move clause for the first three seasons and a modified, no-trade clause for the remaining four. It’s likely the no-move and modified, no-trade kept the AAV within a reasonable range.

On this note, Friedman had this to say earlier today:

“I do think [Shesterkin] is going to sign the richest goaltending contract in league history.” 

This would place the Russian at higher than $10M AAV, a deal that the current highest-paid active goaltender and fellow Russian, Sergei Bobrovsky, signed with the Florida Panthers in July 2019. 

So how does that impact Saros?

“I’m sure that Saros’ agents are going to say hey, maybe we’re not [Shesterkin], but we’re 75 to 80% of him, so we want to get in that area,” Friedman told 102.5 The Game. “I have no doubt that you guys [in Nashville], you know, would like to max out probably Hellebuyck or a little bit less … And I would expect Saros’ agents to wait for [Shesterkin] or to see how that goes to affect their own conversations.” 

I agree with Friedman in that Saros’ agent will seek to align Saros with Shesterkin as much as possible, so waiting makes sense. But it’s also understandable for the Predators to seek to label Shesterkin as unique and a bit younger to avoid a direct comparable. 

Here’s what I wrote back in February, and I find it to hold even more true after today’s Friedman comments: 

There are three important comparable contracts for a Saros extension, in my opinion — Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom, 30 ($6M AAV), Winnipeg’s  Connor Hellebuyck, 30 ($8.5M AAV), and Igor Shesterkin, 28, of the New York Rangers ($5.667M AAV). Markstrom and Hellebuyck recently signed long-term deals whereas Shesterkin will be a UFA the same time as Saros. He and Saros will be looking for raises.

Both Shesterkin and Saros will want a deal similar to Hellebuyck’s, which will likely be the standard on the player side. Shesterkin will presumably want to be the highest-paid goaltender in New York; his intra-state rival Ilya Sorokin, who’s also 28, just signed an eight-year, $66M contract ($8.25M AAV) with the New York Islanders. Not to mention Shesterkin will want to be the highest paid Russian goaltender as well. Sorokin is Russian, too. Although I’m not sure Shesterkin reaches the height of Sergei Bobrovsky’s $10M AAV in Florida. 

Saros, in my opinion, should come in above Markstrom but below Hellebuyck and Shesterkin. I do not factor in Sorokin for Saros because the extra two years between 28 and 30 is important for a goaltender’s value.

Splitting the difference between Hellebuyck, what Shesterkin is likely to command, and Markstrom’s deals results in approximately a $7.25M cap hit. If given a six-year deal, it would bring Saros’ total money to $43.5M. That deal can also be moved later on should the Predators decide to go all-in on Askarov as the No. 1 starter.

If I’m Trotz, I would be prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if that value and term can’t be reached. I’m not getting stuck into a bad contract out of fear. From Saros’ perspective, a modified no-trade clause could be acceptable in exchange for the possible lower cap hit, but Nashville’s priority should be to maintain flexibility to Saros’ deal down the line. A full no-trade should be off the table.

Only time will tell what the future between the pipes will look like in Nashville, but it doesn’t seem like we will have an answer any time soon. There remains a place for the Predators and Saros to move forward together, but the stars will have to align perfectly. The longer this drags out, the more receptive I become to moving on from the Finnish netminder.

There’s currently two likely scenarios as the summer heats up: The Predators will either use Saros as a trade chip to bring in more offense or they’ll make a move and then work with the numbers to see if Saros fits into those plans. 

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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