Thursday, November 3, 2011

Predators Sign Pekka Rinne for 7 Years, $49 Million

The Nashville Predators announced today that they had signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a 7 year, $49 million dollar contract extension. Here is the press release from the Predators:

Nashville Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile announced today that the club has signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million contract – the largest in franchise history.

“Today’s signing is further evidence of our ownership’s commitment to keeping our core intact,” Poile said. “This is the first step of a process designed to retain our key players and leaders. Pekka has grown with our franchise, just recently established our franchise record for career shutouts and is now recognized as one of the game’s elite players. We’re thrilled to know that he will be backstopping our franchise for several years to come.”

Rinne, who is celebrating his 29th birthday today (11/3/82), finished second in voting for the 2011 Vezina Trophy and fourth in voting for the 2011 Hart Trophy, in addition to being named to the 2010-11 NHL Second All-Star Team. Rinne ranked second among NHL netminders in save percentage (.930), third in goals-against average (2.12) and tied for sixth in shutouts (6) in 2010-11, with the save percentage and goals-against average numbers setting franchise records. During the 2011 Playoffs, he led the Predators to their first-ever series victory in the Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Anaheim, then posted a franchise-record for goals-against average in a series (1.94) along with a .932 save percentage in the Western Conference Semifinals against Vancouver.

Already in 2011-12, the Kempele, Finland native has recorded his 21st and 22nd shutouts, moving into first on the franchise’s all-time list and giving him the most whitewashes in the League since 2008-09. His record-breaking 22nd shutout on Saturday against Anaheim was also his 100th career victory. In becoming the first goalie in club history to start each of the team’s first 11 games of the season, Rinne has risen to first in the NHL in saves (307), second in shots against (333), and third in minutes played (624:37).

Nashville’s 10th choice, 258th overall (eighth round), in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Rinne has also represented Finland in two of the past three World Championships (2009, 2010), being named one of the nation’s three best players in both years.

Immediately, there was joy from the Predator nation about the signing, while the reaction across the hockey world has been mixed. Let's take a look at this signing and what it means for the Predators.

The Predators have locked down a goaltender that is arguably the best netminder in the NHL. Rinne finished second in the Vezina voting this past season to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and fourth in the Hart voting as the League's Most Valuable Player. There is no doubt that Rinne is integral to the success of the Predators, having won at least 29 games each season since taking over the starting goaltender's role in the 2008-09 season. Rinne has stolen more games than Predator fans and opponents can count with his play in net.

The Predators have a philosophy of building from the net out, and the signing of Rinne is consistent with that philosophy. While Rinne becomes the highest paid goaltender in the NHL, the question begs "Is he worth it?"

I would answer a resounding "YES".

Rinne's victory totals have been 29, 32, and 33 in each of the last three seasons. His save percentage and GAA over those seasons have been: .917 and 2.38 in 2008; .911 and 2.53 in 2009; and .930 and 2.12 in 2010. Undoubtedly, the Predators would have been challenged to make the playoffs without that kind of effort.

Many in the hockey world have speculated that the Predators could not sign their "big three" of Rinne, Suter, and Weber. Imagine the hue and cry if the Predators were not able to sing any of the big three, or just one of them. The negative perception of Nashville would have been huge, and frankly, it may have made it more difficult to attract top line free agents to the club. And know this: there would be teams lined up to pay Rinne this kind of money should the Predators have chosen not to sign him. 

A goaltender of this caliber is rare. There are those that have said that it is not a good market for goaltenders and that the Predators have overpaid for the services of Rinne. I disagree. True enough, there are a lot of goaltenders in the NHL; there are few of this talent level. Locking in a player like Rinne for the next seven years was, in my view, a very smart move by the Predators management.

What message does this send?

There are two.

To the team, and specifically to Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, it says that the team is committed to keeping the key players in the fold, players that can help the Predators win and go deep in the playoffs. It removes the cloud of having to sign one of the stalwarts of the team and says that management is going to do what is necessary to keep winning.

To the hockey world, it says that this in not the "same old Nashville", and by that I mean that Nashville is a team that can develop good young talent but cannot pay to keep them when they hit their prime. The signing of Rinne destroys that argument, and once the  Predators sign Suter (and they will), maybe that tired meme will disappear.

I am going to venture into the realm of speculation here. The signing of Rinne, especially the length and size of the contract also tells me that perhaps the goalie pipeline of the Predators is nowhere close to being ready to step up to the next level. The coaching ability of Mitch Korn notwithstanding, I would not be comfortable with any of the goalies in our system right now as either a starter or a backup that would have to play 10-15 games a season. 

On a positive note, it does tell me that there is confidence in the depth of the D corp. Should the Predators not be able to sign one of the two defensemen- Suter or Weber- the depth on the blueline is such that the team could manage if they do not sign one of the blueliners. Without a doubt, there would be a drop off, but there is talent that can play at the NHL level.

That is why it was imperative to get Rinne under contract.

We should not forget either that GM David Poile has some degree of flexibility with Weber. He can match any offer sheet since Weber has another year as a restricted free agent. I would have to guess that any offer sheet for Weber would be around the same dollars that he is currently receiving. This gives Poile the luxury of another year to negotiate a deal with Weber and his agents should the Predators choose to match an offer sheet.

For the Predators, this is a great signing on several fronts, and the message to the team is that management is committed to winning.

The message to the hockey world is that this is not the same old Predators.

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