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Juuse Saros Has Earned His Place Amongst the NHL’s Elite

Juuse Saros Has Earned His Place Amongst the NHL’s Elite

Juuse Saros is the Nashville Predators’ most valuable player this season. I know, absolute hot take right? After all, the 27-year-old almost single-handedly willed a hodge-podge team made up of prospects and minor leaguers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Saros has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in the second half of the season despite one of the NHL’s worst defenses playing in front of him, and as a result, has entered the conversation for the Vezina Trophy race.

None of this is surprising for Preds fans. In fact, we’ve become accustomed to Saros’s heroics. His play down the stretch got the Predators on the right track before COVID hit in 2020. His unworldly performance in 2021 snuck the Preds into a postseason they had no business being in, and we saw first-hand, unfortunately, just how much of a “mistake eraser” he was when the Preds didn’t have him in the lineup against the Colorado Avalanche.

Needless to say, Juuse Saros is one of the league’s best goaltenders.

It’s high time for the rest of the NHL to acknowledge that.

As good as Saros has been, it seems there’s been a hesitation to rank him amongst the league’s “elite” goaltenders. When the debate comes up as to “who is the best goalie in the league right now,” people mention Andrei Vasilevskiy or Igor Shesterkin as the gold standard, Connor Hellebuyck as another elite, or Ilya Sorokin and Jake Oettinger as the “up-and-comers.” But Saros’s name always seems to left out of the conversation.

For instance, in the NHLPA’s latest annual player poll, players were asked “if you needed to win one game, who’s the goalie you would want on your team?” Saros was not in the top five, receiving fewer votes than Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin, Hellebuyck, Sorokin, and even Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn’t had a save-percentage above .909 in two seasons, and appears poised to lose his starting job for the Minnesota Wild heading into the playoffs. In a recent episode of Puck Soup, in which NHL writers Sean McIndoe and Ryan Lambert placed this year’s crop of NHL All-Stars into “tiers,” Saros was placed in the bottom tier.

When writers talk about Saros, it’s more in the vain of “a goaltender having a really good season” rather than an “elite goaltender.” But after four “really good seasons” in a row, Saros has earned a change in narrative.

Since the start of the COVID-shortened 2021 season, Saros’s first as the full-time starter, Saros’s .921 save percentage ranks fourth among all goaltenders who’ve played at least 3,000 minutes over that span. That’s a higher percentage than Vasilevskiy, Hellebuyck, or Oettinger over that span. His .843 high-danger save percentage (according to NaturalStatTrick) is third in the league over that span behind only Shesterkin and Sorokin.

But perhaps the most impressive part of Saros’s run as the Preds’ starter is that very few goaltenders have done more with as little help as Saros has had. His 4,809 regular season saves over the past three seasons are second-most in the NHL, as are the 469.51 expected goals he’s faced over that time.

In the context of having a lack of help, this season has been one of Saros’s most impressive. The Predators rank 28th in Corsi Against, 28th in expected goals against, and 24th in high danger chances against. Yet Saros is once again towards the top of the league in a number of key categories, and has slowly emerged as a darkhorse Vezina nominee (FanDuel has him tied for the second-best odds behind Linus Ullmark, the consensus favorite.)

Simply put, Juuse Saros has been one of the best statistical goaltenders in the entire league since taking over the Preds’ starting role, and he’s done it with way less help in front of him than some of the other goalies considered “elite.” For at least two seasons, he’s willed the Predators into a playoff race the team has had absolutely no business being in. And as long as he’s in net and on form, the Nashville Predators are going to be a dangerous team, regardless of what the rest of the roster looks like. That’s the definition of an elite, game-changing goaltender.

It’s time for the rest of the NHL to respect that status.

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