After ten seasons as the Nashville Predators’ starting goalie, it is finally time for Pekka Rinne and the team to go their separate ways.
After a disappointing loss in the Stanley Cup Finals last season, the Nashville Predators only had one thing on their mind when they stepped onto the ice in September. A long playoff run, culminating with a Stanley Cup Parade.
With big hopes for this season, the Nashville Predators came out of the gate poorly. However, after a six-game winning streak in mid-November, the Predators finally took off and carried their strong play throughout the remainder of the season, en route to capturing the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy.
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Once again, Pekka Rinne was a major contributing factor in the Predators regular season success and was rewarded by being named a Vezina Trophy finalist. Unfortunately, however, Nashville and Rinne’s strong play didn’t translate into the postseason, as the team was bounced by the Winnipeg Jets in the second round.
With the Predators season ending just under a week ago, it’s time to answer some tough questions. One of those questions is who should be the Predators starting goalie next season? Quite honestly, there’s no question that it should be Juuse Saros. In fact, the Predators should also trade Rinne.
For the past 10 seasons, there is no question that Pekka Rinne has been one of the NHL’s top goaltenders and has cemented himself as one of the Nashville Predators greatest players. He is the franchise’s all-time leader in Goalie Games Played (508), Goalie Minutes (29420), Wins (269) and Shutouts (43). Not to mention, he has been a key reason the Predators have had recent postseason success. But at the same time, he has hindered the Predators from achieving their ultimate goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Don’t agree? Let’s take a look at recent history.
This past Thursday night in a pivotal Game 7 contest with the Jets, Pekka Rinne was abysmal. The veteran goalie, who has made 83 postseason appearances, was pulled just 10:31 minutes into the opening frame after giving up two terrible goals. Don’t get me wrong, everyone is going to turn out a poor performance once and a while. But it can’t come in a game of this magnitude. It just can’t happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where every save is crucial, and every game is that much more important.
What’s even more alarming is that Rinne didn’t just struggle in Game 7, but he struggled throughout the entire postseason. In 13 games, Rinne recorded a .904 save percentage and gave up four or more goals, five times. The Predators starting goaltender and likely Vezina Trophy winner was also pulled four times by Peter Laviolette, three of which came against Winnipeg. Not to be forgotten is that Rinne was also unable to deliver last year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ultimately, if Rinne was able to carry his strong regular season play from the past two seasons into the postseason, who knows what we’d be talking about. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be that big of a stretch if we were referring to the Predators as the defending Stanley Cup champions and a team looking to win in back to back years. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead, I’m wondering if Rinne, who turns 36 in November and enters the final season of his contract at a $7-million cap hit, can lead his team to the promise land.
Out With the Old, in With the New
So who should become the number one guy? Well, in my opinion, I think there’s no doubt that the #1 guy next season should be Juuse Saros. In just two seasons, the 23-year-old Finnish netminder has made a name for himself as one of the NHL’s best backups in the game. This past season, he made 26 appearances, recording 11 wins, a .925 SV%, a 2.45 GAA and three shutouts. And in these playoffs he was stellar as well, posting a .952 SV% in 114 minutes over four relief appearances.
As an RFA, Saros has to be signed this summer if the predators see him as part of the future. In the short term, the Predators may still only see him as a backup. But as mentioned earlier, I feel as though he needs to be the starter next season. After all, Pekka Rinne has proven that he can’t backstop the Predators to a win when it truly counts. At the age of 36, his game is likely going to slip in the near future. On the other hand, considering that Saros is younger and that the bulk of the Predators core is locked up for at least two more years, it only makes sense that Peter Laviolette and David Poile let Saros grow and compete with their current rosters.
What to do with Rinne?
The Predators could retain both Saros and Rinne; however, the smartest move would be to trade Rinne while he still has value. By moving Rinne, the Predators would likely be able to acquire some much-needed scoring support or another middle pairing blueliner. With that being said, the only franchise I could see the 6’5” netminder being traded to is the Philadelphia Flyers. To me, they are the only team that would consider this trade. They would greatly benefit from having a goaltender with a proven track record like Pekka Rinne between the pipes. Furthermore, not only would trading Rinne fetch some valuable assets, but it would also clear $7 million of cap space. Considering that the salary cap is projected to increase from $75 million to anywhere between $78-$82 million heading into next season, the Predators would have some room to pursue John Tavares.
In any case, moving Rinne ahead of next season would be a tough decision to make and an unpopular one. Ironically, David Poile has proven that he isn’t afraid to make bold decisions, so evidently, anything could happen this summer. In my opinion, if Poille can get a fair deal that improves the club, I say go for it.