Predators’ Rinne May Go Down as Franchise’s Greatest Player

They say all good things must come to an end. In the sports world, they say Father Time is undefeated. But watching Pekka Rinne take a victory lap, which was more like an appreciation lap, after the Nashville Predators defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0 on May 10, which also marked Rinne’s 369th win and 60th shutout, it’s hard not to resent those statements.

For the record, there has been no decision made public regarding Rinne’s future. It’s not a foregone conclusion that he will retire.

“I don’t want to speculate yet. I really don’t have an answer,” Rinne said when asked if he had spent any time considering his plans beyond this season. “I’ve mentioned multiple times this year that I’m loving every minute of it. I love coming to the rink. I love playing with the guys. This season is all that matters to me right now.”

That type of answer doesn’t surprise anyone that knows the long-time goalie. He very much focuses on the team needs rather than reveling in his own personal success. 

But seeing as he’s too modest to admit the tremendous impact he’s had on the team and the city, we’ll do it for him. After watching the celebration of Rinne following the conclusion of the regular season, it was abundantly clear how much he has meant to the franchise.

While it may do no good to look forward and predict, we can reflect and appreciate the greatness that is Pekka Rinne.

Standing the Test of Time in Style

Professional sport is a business. Sometimes, regardless of standing, players are seen as assets that can be traded or released in the name of making the organization better. It’s sometimes a hard lesson to learn, but it has to be accepted.

Pekka Rinne, John Tavares
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne stops a shot by Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Predators’ fans experienced the, dare we say, cruel reality of sports when beloved captain Shea Weber was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens. Of course, very few fans liked the deal at the time. Weber was highly regarded as one of the best defensemen in the league and being a fan-favorite only elevated his worth in the minds of his supporters. However, the one player who many thought would never be shipped out of Nashville was, and it cemented the notion that no one is untradeable.

So, you see, it’s not just his infectious smile or his extremely likable personality. Rinne has remained a Predator since 2005 because management believed they couldn’t get any better between the pipes, and they were right.

He has always been reliable. Except for this season, due to the play of Juuse Saros, there has never been a time you could argue that playing Rinne was a mistake. He has been instrumental to the Predators’ success for many seasons.

Related: Predators’ Saros Is Undeniably a Vezina Trophy Contender

In perhaps the franchise’s biggest year – 2017 – Rinne did not disappoint. The playoff run announced to the league that the Predators had arrived. They were not supposed to be there, and many considered them as underdogs, especially before they swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. It would have been tough for the Predators to defeat the Hawks without Rinne, and it would have been impossible to win four-in-a-row if it were not for his play.

Rinne faced 126 shots during the four-game series, and he made 123 saves. That’s right, over a four-game span, he allowed just three goals! He finished the first round with a .976 save percentage (SV%) and a 0.70 goals-against average (GAA).

goaltender equipment
Pekka Rinne makes a right pad save. (Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE)

By the time the 2017 postseason concluded, Rinne held a .930 SV% and a 1.96 GAA. Yes, the Predators ultimately came up short in the Stanley Cup Final, but Rinne was of no fault. The Pittsburgh Penguins were a complete team. To stand a chance, the Predators needed their best players to be their best players because that’s what great players do and Rinne did just that.

However, it’s not just a brief snapshot where Rinne has demonstrated his elite play. His NHL career stats consist of a .917 SV%, a 2.43 GAA, and, as mentioned, 369 wins to accompany 60 shutouts. When you play as many games as Rinne, it can be hard to average those types of numbers. His career stat line shows that his long career has been consistent and well above average. Not bad for an eighth-round pick!  

Weber was a franchise great. He was instrumental in putting Nashville on the hockey map. Being a team located in the heart of the south, the publicity and attention are not easy to get, especially when you’re competing with teams like the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. But having Weber on the team forced casual fans and media outlets to talk about the Predators. Well, that’s what Rinne has done too, but maybe on an even higher level, as much as it may pain Weber loyalists to hear.

Rinne was the first Predators player to win a performance-based award when he finally took home the Vezina Trophy in 2018, after being nominated four times for the accolade during his career. For the first time, Predators fans could boast to the hockey world that they had a player who was officially the best at his position in the league.

It was a real moment of pride for the fans. So, it was no surprise they reacted the way they did, before, during, and after the game against the Hurricanes.

But the respect goes both ways, which has made the bond between Rinne and the fanbase all the more special.

“I don’t know if I can find the right word how much I appreciate our fans,” Rinne explained. “My relationship with the fans, this city, it means the world to me.”

He’s played in 683 games for the Predators, starting 667 of those. It’s by far the most of any Predators’ goalie. Rinne has played 300 more games in a Predators uniform than Tomas Vokoun, who sits second on the list. When it comes to all players, only David Legwand, Weber and Martin Erat have skated in more games than Rinne. Considering, as a goalie, he never has the opportunity to play in all 82 regular-season games; it really shows the work that he’s put in for this team.

Rinne Versus Notable Predator Greats

Therein lies the list of the strongest competitors for the “Franchise’s Greatest Player.” While it may feel weird to argue against Legwand, as he holds so many Predators’ records, he was never among the game’s best on a league-wide scale. He was a good forward in a franchise of average ones. His time served may be the greatest accomplishment with the team and the franchise records may have largely been a by-product of those games played.

This is meant with no disrespect to Legwand. He is beloved in Nashville and rightly so. He is another pillar in the franchise’s history as well as their success. But when it comes to points-per-game, he ranks outside the top-1000 in league history.

David Legwand
David Legwand scores against the Phoenix Coyotes, now known as Arizona (Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE)

Weber, unfortunately, did not play for the Predators long enough to compete against Rinne for this title. Had he remained in Nashville, he would’ve stood an excellent chance to be considered as the Predators’ greatest player, but as we said, this is a business.

When discussing the game’s best, Rinne should enter the conversation. Admittedly, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would crown Rinne as the NHL’s best, ahead of Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy and so on. But the fact that it’s not unreasonable for Rinne to be mentioned among the elite shows just how good he is. When it comes to dialogue regarding the greatest forwards, the Predators have never had a player who would be justifiably in the same zip code as the predictable candidates. As for defense, it would be a little closer but still coming up short. It’s easier to make a case for Rinne at his respective position than any Predators forward or defenseman at theirs.   

Related: Predators Need Contributions From Entire Lineup in Hurricanes Series

But the great thing about sports is that our hearts can tell us who the greats are too. Analytics are nice; however, it could be argued they don’t tell the whole story when we’re dealing with games that elicit so much emotion and passion. How we feel watching certain players should count for something. And a large, lovable 6-foot-5 goalie defying what we thought we knew about big men and athleticism to make a save is perhaps the most exciting thing Predators’ fans have ever seen on a consistent basis.

Rinne is considered as “one of the good guys” because he plays the game the right way and he exemplifies who we want our idols to be.

Matt Duchene has not been with the team long, but he already sees Rinne the same way that many fans do.

“He could have zero wins and zero anything as a hockey player and he’s a special person,” Duchene said. Later explaining, “I’ve played about 100 games here now and he’s one of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had.

Rinne always puts the team first. He would do anything and take on any role to see this squad succeed; we all know that. But even after the game against the Hurricanes on May 10, better known as “Rinne’s Night,” he was still thinking about the team.

“There was a time I tried to tell the boys. ‘let’s go back to the locker room, we have playoffs coming up,’” Rinne said postgame. “I don’t always feel comfortable in the spotlight. Again, after a while, I think it was Brad Richardson, Richie, he told me, ‘take a lap.’ I mean it doesn’t happen too often, so I’m glad I did. It felt really unbelievable and just the reaction from the fans, it really felt special.”

What has felt special is watching him play at such a high level for so long and giving his heart and soul to this team. Chants of his name echoed through the arena while he soaked in the love from the Nashville faithful. The fanbase couldn’t have said it any better when they simply screamed, “Thank you, Pekka Rinne!”

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