The Nashville Predators had many options heading into free agency and players that they needed to decide to get rid of or bring back. They re-signed forward Mikael Granlund to a four-year contract worth $5 million average annual value (AAV), which was hit or miss depending on who you ask. However, with Pekka Rinne deciding to hang up the skates, it was time to address the goaltending situation. There was some speculation about Carter Hutton, as he said he would be open to a return to Nashville. However, he was signed by the Arizona Coyotes for the league minimum of $750,000.
Big backup names like Antti Raanta, James Reimer, and Jonathan Bernier started to fall off the list, and even bigger names like Frederik Andersen found their way into contracts. It left some slim pickings, but David Poile found his guy. David Rittich signed with the team for one year, worth $1.25 million.
Why Choose Rittich?
Yaroslav Askarov is the Predators’ top prospect in the organization. The arguably generational goaltending talent was picked 11th overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Still, he has to play out his contract with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL before coming over to North America and playing for a spot on the team. Most people speculated that Rinne would be out after his contract ended and that there would be a one-season gap between his retirement and Askarov’s big move to the U.S. That left Poile with having to choose from within the system or selecting from the free-agent market. Either way, the goalie that was getting the job would have to be willing to play on a short-term contract. The in-house option was Connor Ingram, and he very well could have been the choice had his 2020-21 not been full of chaos and mediocre performances.
With Rittich, his value has diminished over the last few seasons. He sported a very solid .908 save percentage (SV%) with the Calgary Flames but faltered in his brief time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He definitely wasn’t himself, but he has proven that he can be a steady presence. Whether it be in a starters role or a backup role, he has the skill to put up consistently good numbers. With the problems in Toronto, it wouldn’t be surprising if he wanted to take the short-term deal to try and regain some of the value he had a couple of seasons ago. It works out for both him and the Predators, as both fulfill their long-term needs with this deal.
What Can Rittich Bring to the Predators’ Crease?
Juuse Saros is the obvious starting goaltender, but he can’t play all 82 games. He will inevitably shoulder most of the workload, but a team needs to have a goaltender that can play 25-30 games in the year. It also needs to be someone you can trust from a front office point of view if the full-time starter gets hurt. Rittich, having been a full starter for two seasons in Calgary, knows what it takes and has the experience to take over the crease if needed. He is also capable of playing a fair amount of games at a level that perfectly suits the Predators’ needs. He’s only had below a .900 SV% once, and that was in his four-game stint as a Maple Leaf. It’s hard to imagine him faltering from his average in a larger sample size.
Rittich is also a fan-favorite player. He brought lots of character to an already heated rivalry known as “the Battle of Alberta” between the Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. He most notably went viral around the hockey world for his celebration after a successful flying poke check on superstar Leon Draisaitl to win a game. He clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously and brings some spunk and identity to a lineup that definitely needs to find one this upcoming season. He’s a model of consistency in reliable sample sizes and someone who is uber-competitive and has fun playing hockey.
Another thing going for him is that he’s 28-years-old, which is usually the prime of a player’s career. If everything goes well for him, he should play the best hockey of his career or something close to it. There is no need to fret about a rapid decline or even a decline at all. He’s relatively young, and his movement in and around the crease is excellent.
Of course, he does have some weaknesses. He does have a reputation for letting in some soft goals. It also doesn’t help that his advanced numbers like goals saved above expected (GSAx) and delta Fenwick save percentage (dFSv%) are at the bottom of the barrel per Evolving-Hockey. He has the 21st GSAx out of 27 goalies with a minimum of 4000 Fenwick’s (unblocked shots) against and is in the same spot for dFSv% from 2018-21. However, he was playing behind an extremely questionable Calgary defense. Although GSAx can account for more than goals-against average (GAA) or SS%, it’s not a perfect stat by any means.
In a reduced role with a better defense in front of him, Rittich could very well be a serviceable backup goaltender, which is exactly what the Predators need. Not only does it help the team, but the reduced role could help him gain some of his value back for when he hits the open market next offseason. It’s a mutually beneficial deal, and I’ll be interested to see how he performs this season under the shadow of Saros.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings and Wild content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck or the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.