In defeating the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 Sunday night, Carter Hutton became just the seventh goaltender in Nashville Predators franchise history to record a win.
For a team in its 15th season of operation, that is an amazing statistic. Hutton joins Mike Dunham, Tomas Vokoun, Dan Ellis, Chris Mason, Pekka Rinne, and Anders Lindback as the only big pad-wearing men to backstop the Predators to a victory since the team entered the NHL in 1998.
Perhaps as impressive as the small number of members of the “Predators Goaltender Victory Club” is the fact that all of them were acquired off of various metaphorical scrap heaps.
Dunham and Vokoun were selected in the Expansion Draft prior to the team beginning play in the franchise’s infancy. Dunham had the NHL’s version of the Maytag repairman type of assignment as the backup to Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. Rather than protect two goalies, which would have exposed more of their skaters to the Predators in the expansion draft, the Devils left Dunham unprotected and Nashville grabbed him away from New Jersey.
Unlike Dunham, who the Predators felt strongly about being their first number one goalie, Vokoun was seen as more of a project and an organizational depth guy. When he arrived in Nashville, he was not in very good shape, but after seeing an opportunity with the Predators, he dedicated himself to working on his fitness and eventually developed into the goaltender who still holds the franchise record for victories, even if he is just days or weeks away from losing that title to Rinne.
Ellis was a bit of an unknown when he was signed to a deal prior to the 2007 season. Ellis was so good in training camp that year; he took away the backup spot that Rinne was penciled in for going into camp and lasted three seasons in Nashville.
Mason is the only three-time Predator. In 1998 he was acquired as part of a trade with Anaheim along with Marc Moro in exchange for Dominic Roussel. He returned in 2003 after being claimed off of waivers from Florida. Mason’s third tour of duty with the Predators came last season, when he was signed as a free agent.
Mason and Hutton share the rare honor of being the only Nashville goaltenders to win a game while wearing an even numbered jersey. Hutton wears number 30, as did Mason during his time with the Predators.
By both being Nashville draftees, both Rinne and Lindback are homegrown Predators, but their draft positions suggest that neither of the Nordic netminders were can’t miss prospects destined for greatness in the NHL.
Scouts had to show up early to Rinne’s Finnish League games to watch the warmup since he was the backup to now Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who saw most of the game action for Karpat Oulu.
Nashville saw enough of Rinne to select him late in the 2004 draft when they grabbed him in the 8th round at 258th overall.
Lindback was also a late round pick, going in the 7th round (208th overall) in 2007. He came to camp in 2010 with the backup position up for grabs and ended up earning the job. After two years behind Rinne, Lindback expressed his desire to be a starter and was shipped to Tampa Bay in the summer of 2012.
Mason was less than impressive in 2012-13, so the Predators went to the market for this season’s backup. General manager David Poile signed Hutton on free agency’s first day, and despite just one game of NHL experience, they felt confident that he was the one to play behind Rinne in 2013-14.
Thanks to the AHL’s unbalanced schedule format, Hutton played a number of games against the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s top developmental affiliate, when he played for Rockford. Rinne had offseason hip surgery, so signing an unproven backup was a bit of a gamble for Poile.
Given head coach Barry Trotz’s propensity to ride Rinne like Seabiscuit in recent years, having a reliable backup was especially important this year as Rinne’s rehabilitation was scheduled to run up into training camp, as well as the fact that this is an Olympic season meant that the backup was likely to see more action than in previous seasons.
Hutton’s early results are promising. He was called upon early in the first game of the season after RInne allowed three quick goals. Sunday night was his first start, and he stopped 38 of the 39 shots he faced en route to his first career NHL win against the Jets.
The ironic twist to the story of Nashville’s success in finding value in goaltenders that were not in high demand is the fact that the two netminders they selected with first round draft picks turned out to be busts.
In 1999, they took Brian Finley with the 6th overall pick. He appeared in just two games with the Predators, allowing ten goals against in 107 minutes of game action.
Then in 2008, the Predators selected Chet Pickard with the 18th overall pick. He was the second of their two first round picks that year, with Colin Wilson going 7th overall. Pickard never saw action in Nashville, or anywhere else in the NHL for that matter.
The Predators are high on Magnus Hellberg, their first pick (second round, 38th overall) in 2011. He is likely the next in line to play behind Rinne at some point down the road, but the early returns on Hutton mean that Nashville is in no rush to make that move.