It’s fully expected that however long next season is for the Nashville Predators, it will be the last for the foundational player of the franchise.
Rinne is the elder statesman on a team that’s gotten a lot younger, and will have a fresh look to it.
It’s been a rough go for Rinne in recent memory. If you take out his monumental goaltender goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, last season was largely a bumpy one. It happens to the best of them.
Heading into the postseason restart, I thought Rinne should’ve been the Game 1 starter. I got pushback from that from a lot of people, but a refreshed Rinne in playoff hockey was something the Predators needed to go with.
Does Rinne have enough gas in the tank to put together one more memorable season? I wouldn’t count him out.
The foundation of the franchise
The Predators never get to a Stanley Cup without Rinne. And that’s not just for the 2016-17 season, but more so the seasons leading up to it when the Predators started to build a winning culture that regularly made the postseason.
You have to start somewhere, right?
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Now the question is what percentage of starts Rinne is in line to get next season?
Juuse Saros is almost certainly going to be the No.1 starting goaltender, and he should be. However, I don’t think he has a lot of room to struggle, fair or unfair.
If Saros really comes up short over the first five or six starts, people are going to be quickly clamoring for Rinne. Much like the reverse happened when Saros was the backup and Rinne hit a downturn.
Rinne is going to have a bounce-back season. I just feel it in my heart of hearts. The full weight of the team is no longer on his shoulders like it was for over a decade. He can go out there more comfortable and relaxed, ready to go out on top.
The Predators have addressed their dicey defensive makeup during the offseason with the additions of players like Mark Borowiecki, Matt Benning, Brad Richardson and even Luke Kunin. These guys bring defense first in their gameplay.
I’m not calling for a Vezina Trophy type of season in any way, but I do think Rinne will play very well and push for a tough decision once again on who to start in the middle of the season.
We’ll have to see how well the Predators are performing in the standings, but the pressure remains on Saros to hold onto his starting role for one more season.
Maybe that pressure can translate into Saros being the one who says “hold my beer, this is my team and I’m the one that’s going to lead this franchise for the next decade”.
Cementing his legacy
Rinne has the opportunity to cement his legacy if he somehow finds his youth again and propels the young Predators to some big wins. It’s not outlandish to think this could happen. He’s not completely washed up like some fellow fans like to say he is.
Until we know exactly how many games there will be in the next regular season, it’s hard to say how many starts Rinne might get in his farewell season. Based on percentage, a safe estimate is around 40 percent of the starts, assuming Saros stays healthy and plays well enough to keep the confidence of the coaching staff.
If Rinne is clearly outplaying Saros, then the coaching staff can’t hesitate to make the switch. The team has already shown they’re thinking about the future of the position by drafting the undisputed best goaltender from the draft class in Yaroslav Askarov in this past draft.
Another possibility to think about is if Rinne does have a resurgence, and decides to go to a winning franchise on a quest to get his Stanley Cup. How painful would that be to see him hoist the Stanley Cup in any uniform other than Predators gold?
As bad as it would hurt, a true Predators fans will be elated for Rinne and probably shed some tears. He’s just too great of a human being and leader to not to.
Rinne’s incredible career numbers have him at 359 wins, 58 shutouts, a .917 save percentage and a GAA of 2.42. I think he’ll hit those career averages again, steal some games for the Predators and add to his career shutout total as well.
That last home start for Rinne in Nashville will be one to truly behold. Let’s hope he goes out on top playing some of his best hockey for a Predators team that is bringing excitement to Lower Broadway again.