How many UFA goalies (we aren’t considering the potential of trades for the purposes of this hypothetical) are going to be willing to sign in Nashville knowing that they’re going to be coming in to back up Pekka Rinne? Not many.
Rinne is The Guy in Nashville right now, despite his slow start back from injury, and no one looking to be an NHL starting goaltender is going to want to come into a situation with an established number one – particularly one like Rinne, to whom the fanbase is so loyal. Still, with that injury in the backs of their minds, Predators management is undeniably going to want a backup goalie they know they can count on in a worst-case scenario.
So why not re-sign the guy that got them through that worst-case scenario this year?
Carter Hutton, NHLer
Carter Hutton’s numbers on the season are below league average right now, yes. But before this season, Hutton had started a grand total of one game in the NHL. He came into Nashville under the impression that he was going to back up Rinne, and instead ended up being thrown in as the starter when Rinne succumbed to a hip infection. Thus far, Hutton is 18-11-4.
His underlying numbers (.907 sv% and 2.69 GAA) make it clear that Hutton is not ready for a full-time NHL starting position yet, but he has been improving steadily all season. Hutton has earned every bit of the two-way contract that the Predators signed him to last year. I would even venture so far as to say he has earned himself an upgrade to a one-way, should they re-sign him this summer. He was solid in Rinne’s absence, and is trusted enough by the coaching staff to allow Rinne to pace himself now on his road back to being the Predators’ full-time starter.
“When he got to us, we talk about the term ‘tight,’ ” goaltending coach Mitch Korn said. “He wasn’t powerful enough. He wasn’t quick enough. He didn’t track pucks well enough. He always had a strength of handling pucks, but he wasn’t processing those things quick enough. He took shots off in practice. He couldn’t sustain what we needed at the NHL level.”
Working with Korn this season has clearly benefited Hutton, and should continue to do so.
“He’s tight, he’s quick, he’s powerful. He reads and reacts. He handles pucks extremely well,” Korn said. “He makes good plays. He practices hard every day, doesn’t take any shots off. His learning curve has been exceptional.”
If that learning curve continues, Hutton should make up a solid tandem with Rinne for several seasons to come. Signing him to a one-way contract, even one with a small raise (Hutton currently makes league minimum) is a low-risk move for the Predators, and one they should consider making sooner than later.
Hannah Stuart is a copywriter by day, hockey writer by night. Covering the Carolina Hurricanes for THW and working on a Masters in Sports Leadership from Duquesne University.