You might have been scrolling through the NHL transactions today – because, really, that’s about all we have at the moment – and noticed that a 22-year-old kid by the name of Connor Ingram signed a three-year deal with the Nashville Predators.
You might have thought to yourself, “Wasn’t that the kid who played for Canada’s World Junior team a couple of years ago?” Because as much as these teenagers are household names and superstars for two weeks during the tournament, the hockey memory fades pretty quickly in a lot of people. And in terms of the WJC, 2017 was a long, long time ago. Then you might be confused because you could have sworn he was a pretty good prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning at one time. Then you might say something like, “Whatever happened to that kid?”
Well, the answer to that is, not much out of the ordinary, actually. It’s not at all uncommon for a goalie to be in his mid-20s and be on his second or third organization by the time he blossoms into an NHLer. The Carter Harts of the world are the exception and the Connor Ingrams are more of the rule. (Fun fact: Ingram and Hart made up Canada’s goaltending tandem in the 2017 WJC in which USA defeated Canada in a shootout in the gold medal game.)
If you want a comparable for Ingram, you might just want to look at the guy who won the Stanley Cup last year. Of all the goalies currently in the NHL, only Corey Crawford played more games in the minors than Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues prior to cementing his status as an NHL goalie. Crawford played 245 games in the American League prior to becoming a full-timer in Chicago. Binnington played a total of 204 in the minors, including 44 in the ECHL.
To this point in his career, Ingram has played zero NHL games and 106 in the minors, including 16 in the ECHL. Care to know who else has played at least that many minor-league games before becoming full-time NHLers? Well, how about Jimmy Howard (181), Devan Dubnyk (181), Ben Bishop (175), Jakob Markstrom (163), Martin Jones (159), Craig Anderson (156), Mike Smith (154), Pekka Rinne (145), Brayden Holtby (144) and Carter Hutton (134)? Tuukka Rask played 102.
If all goes according to plan for both the Predators and Ingram, he’ll likely play at least one more year for their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee while Rinne and Juuse Saros play out the last seasons of their contracts. Rinne is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 season, while Saros will be restricted with arbitration rights. It’s pretty clear the Predators think Ingram has what it takes to be at least a backup in the NHL by Year 3 of the deal, since they made it a one-way deal in the last year at $750,000. Even if Ingram doesn’t play a game in the NHL, he’s guaranteed to make almost $1 million over the three years, with a minor-league guarantee of $120,000 next season and $125,000 the season after that.
So if the Predators are tracking for Ingram to become an NHL goaltender, does that mean the Lightning messed up in trading him to Nashville last summer for a seventh-round pick, the draft’s equivalent of a bag of pucks? Well, obviously if he ends up being an NHL star, the Lightning might have some ’splaining to do at some point. But the reality is that the Lightning actually did him a favor by giving him a fresh start somewhere else, because it wasn’t coming in Tampa.
Ingram played in the AHL All-Star Game last season and not long after found himself demoted to the ECHL. This may come as a surprise, but organizations tend not to do that when they’re happy with a prospect. Word is that the Lightning were not thrilled with Ingram’s work ethic and demoted him to send that message, one that ultimately soured the relationship between the two parties. So off goes Ingram to Nashville and becomes one of the better goalies in the AHL. Sound familiar? Well, that’s pretty much the way the relationship went between Binnington and the Blues for a couple of years. The Blues didn’t trade Binnington, but they tried to. In fact, they sent him to Boston’s farm team in Providence for a season and basically made him available to anyone who wanted him.
And then Binnington got it. And once he did, there was no stopping him or the Blues. It’s far too early to suggest Connor Ingram will follow the same path, but don’t be terribly surprised if it looks roughly the same.
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