On his 29th birthday, Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne signed a 7-year contract extension worth $49 million. The contract has a yearly salary cap hit of $7 million.
“I suspect he will always remember this day,” General Manager David Poile said in his opening remarks of Thursday afternoon’s press conference to discuss the deal.
“So many of us believe you build your team from the goaltender out,” Poile explained, adding, “Today, in our estimation, we have signed the best goaltender in the League.”
Rinne says there was never anywhere else he wanted to play. “My first choice since the start was to stay in Nashville and sign with the Nashville Predators. Since the start, it was the sooner the better so we got the contract done. I feel very fortunate that with the help of the ownership, David [Poile], and my agent, we got it done fairly soon.”
The Vezina Trophy runner-up is a key component to the Predators success. However, it was never a certainty that Rinne would make it to the NHL. In fact, he was only a backup in his native Finland when Nashville drafted him in 2004.
“When we drafted Pekka, we selected him 258th overall in the draft. From a scouting perspective, Pekka played very few games that year. In fact, our scouts who got an eye on him said if you want to really get an eye on this guy you have to come to the warm-up because he hardly ever played. Big kudos to our scouting staff to be that good that they were able identify Pekka in the warm-ups,” Poile said.
Rinne backed up Niklas Backtrom, the Minnesota Wild’s star goaltender, playing for the Karpat Oulu in the Finnish Elite League. Rinne played in 14 games and posted a 5-4-4 record that season.
The 6’5, 209 pound netminder said he learned a lot from those early days in his career.
“I always dreamed about playing in the National Hockey League. To me, it has been a long journey. That was a good time for me. I learned a lot from Backstrom. He was and he is one of the better goalies. He is a great guy,” Rinne said about his former teammate.
But when the opportunity to come to North America presented itself, it was an easy decision for Rinne. “For sure, back then I wanted to play more. When I had a chance to come here with the Nashville organization it was an easy decision. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I knew I had a good chance to play more games and get better,” Rinne said.
While spending three seasons in Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, Rinne’s career suffered a setback when he was mugged in July of 2006, being attacked by three strangers and separating his shoulder. Rinne was forced to have surgery and ended up missing all but 29 games of the 2006-07 season–just one season after leading the Admirals all the way to the Calder Cup finals.
Rinne’s NHL career took a smaller detour towards the end of the 2007-08 season. Winners of just one game in their last six, the Predators decided to recall Rinne from Milwaukee with Chris Mason and Dan Ellis struggling in Nashville. A snowstorm left Rinne unable to arrive in Chicago in time for the 2pm start time. Ellis played the game, a 2-1 shootout win over the Blackhawks, and kept the starting role.
Rinne waited patiently, developing into the elite player that he is today. The next season, Mason was gone and Rinne was in.
During that 2008-09 season, Rinne played 52 games in what was his rookie campaign posting a 29-15-4 record. Going into the 2009-10 season, it was unclear who was Nashville’s number one goalie, Rinne or Ellis.
After the Olympic break, however, the Predators intentions became clear. After not being selected to play for Finland at the Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rinne signed a two-year contract extension worth $6.8 million with Nashville during the two-week hiatus, leaving Ellis, an unrestricted free agent at the end of that season, as the odd-man out.
Last year was Rinne’s finest. Besides being the runner-up in Vezina Trophy voting, Rinne also finished fourth in voting for the 2011 Hart Trophy. His statistics a year ago will be hard to match. Rinne ranked second among NHL netminders in save percentage (.930), third in goals-against average (2.12) and was tied for sixth in shutouts with six all the while posting a 33-22-9 record in 64 games.
The Chairman of the Predators ownership group, Tom Ciggaran, says signing Rinne is a step towards Nashville fielding an elite team on the ice. “Pekka embodies everything we want in a Predator player. He is a team player. He goes all in every game. He’s a terrific individual on and off the ice. He not only wants to win, but he wants to bring a Stanley Cup to Nashville” he said.
Known as a defense-first team, General Manager David Poile now has another 8 months to sign the other two keys to Nashville’s success, captain Shea Weber and alternate captain Ryan Suter. Rinne was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st but has avoided the open market with the deal.
Rinne did not allow the contract status of Weber or Suter to interfere with his decision to stay in Nashville.
“You can only make choices on your own. I’ve had the luxury to play with those guys three years now. I want to keep elite players. I know we are doing our best to get them signed here. But this is my decision. I was the first one out of us three to sign and hopefully those two guys are next.”
Photo credit: Getty Images
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