Pekka a Rinne-stone Cowboy in Nashville
Philadelphia, PA – Those not convinced that the Nashville Predators are in it to win long term need to look no further than the massive contract that general manager David Poile dished out to goaltender Pekka Rinne back in November.
Like the protagonist in Glen Campbell's iconic '70s hit, Rinne has paid his dues and was rewarded with a seven-year, $49 million deal that just so happens to be the largest the club has ever dished out. It also comes after a breakout 2010-11 campaign for the 29-year-old in which he notched career bests in wins (33), goals-against average (2.12) and save percentage (.930) to net a Vezina Trophy nomination.
Rinne has done nothing this year to make Poile regret his decision to invest heavily in the Finn. Heading into action on Tuesday, Rinne was in the midst of a franchise-record 11-game win streak and has gone 14-1-0 with a 1.72 GAA since Dec. 28. He is just the fifth goaltender since 1998-99 to have a personal win streak of 11 games, a list that includes a Hall of Famer in Patrick Roy, a future Hall of Famer in Martin Brodeur, and a Stanley Cup champion in Marc-Andre Fleury.
But it's not just numbers with Rinne. Head coach Barry Trotz said after his netminder basically stole a 3-1 win over the Blues on Saturday that it is the timing and composure of Rinne that makes him one of the game's best.
"He's stopping the puck and making the big save when the game's on the line, and he's been doing that when momentum's coming at us. When you talk about special people in this league, he's one of them," said Trotz.
Case in point came in the third period with the Preds up by just a goal. After getting a little help from the post to deny the Blues' Kris Russell, and left seemingly out of position, Rinne dove to his left and made an incredible stop on the defenseman's second attempt just seconds later.
Russell probably should have been staring at a sure-fire goal, but instead just became the latest star on Rinne's highlight reel.
"He just kind of had an open net ... and I was able to get it with my glove. That was a big save at the time. You know, sometimes you just work your hardest and you get lucky," said Rinne, who made 19 saves in the third frame to give Nashville a league-best 14-3-0 mark since Dec. 28.
Luck has nothing to do with it according to Trotz.
"There's not too many goaltenders in this league who would make that save and that's why I keep saying he's the best one and he proved it tonight."
Added Trotz, "Not only is he incredibly athletic ... but his ability just to will himself, he's so competitive. Even in practice, he doesn't want to get scored on. He's always wired and never quits on the play, quits on the puck and he can contort with his athletic ability to do some incredible things."
Rinne's impact on the club isn't just felt on the ice either. The fact that he is scheduled to be in the Music City for the rest of this decade should make Nashville a desirable place to play, especially for a defenseman. That is something pending free agent Ryan Suter should keep in mind as he decides his Preds future.
Fresh off an All-Star appearance, Suter has said he won't discuss his contract status until after the season, though he clarified that doesn't necessarily mean he wants to become a free agent. Still, Poile must now gauge if he will be able to keep Suter in the mix and hold onto his star defender, or deal the 27- year-old before the trade deadline.
Some advice for Poile: Hold on to Suter as well as fellow defenseman and future restricted free agent, captain Shea Weber. With Rinne in top form, the Predators are poised to make their deepest postseason run since coming into the league in 1998-99. Suter is a big part of that as well and is worth the risk of losing this offseason.
Nashville's brief history is littered with the club trading away some of its biggest stars -- the names Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Tomas Vokoun and Dan Hamhuis come to mind -- but the Preds should keep Suter and Weber off that list.
With Rinne between the pipes, why mess with a good thing?