Well, the Nashville Predators’ succession plan in net looks pretty crystal-clear now. Franchise legend Pekka Rinne was signed to a two-way extension on the weekend, with an annual cap hit of $5 million. As Adam Vingan of The Athletic pointed out, that means Nashville has $6.5 million committed to goaltending for next season and the one after that.
Juuse Saros, the man responsible for that other $1.5 million, is the future in Nashville. But he is just 23 years old, which is young for an NHL netminder. Rinne, 36, is old – but not ancient. And the towering Finn’s results so far this year have confirmed that he ain’t dead yet. Far from it, in fact.
Rinne’s past two performances have been absolute gems. Coming off an injury that cost him five games, Rinne stopped 42 shots in a win over high-powered Tampa Bay, then followed it up with a shutout of Boston. On the season, the Preds keeper has a sparkling .948 save percentage and 1.63 goals-against average with two shutouts in seven appearances.
Predicting how Rinne would play this year was difficult to handicap. Sure, he won the Vezina Trophy in the summer, but he had rough go in the playoffs (and Vezina voting closes before the post-season begins). For a veteran with so many miles on the odometer, Rinne easily could have sagged this year, but that has not been the case.
While Saros’ numbers haven’t been quite as staggering, the young Finn is still rocking a 6-2 record with one shutout himself. One of the shortest goaltenders in the league, Saros relies on his athleticism and his reads to stymie shooters and though his NHL career is still in its early stages, he seems like that rare shorter goaltender who can hang at the top level.
For Nashville, the goal is obvious: win a Stanley Cup before Rinne’s new extension expires. The Predators are in their window right now and the motivation of getting Rinne a ring before he retires is just the cherry on top of a mission that is certainly achievable.
The luxury GM David Poile has given his team now is one of comfort and flexibility. Rinne and Saros can work as a team, with the hot hand taking over in the playoffs. I would suspect that before Rinne’s extension finishes, he will be the nicely-compensated backup to Saros, but perhaps that doesn’t happen until 2020-21. And that’s fine. Saros should be given as much runway as he needs to get ready for the full-time starter’s role and having Rinne as a safety blanket will be fantastic for him.
One only needs to look at what has happened in Pittsburgh since Marc-Andre Fleury left for Vegas to see the benefit of having a veteran stick around a little longer. The Penguins have had some struggles with Matt Murray since Fleury became a Golden Knight, as Murray has battled numerous injuries, but also some inconsistency between the pipes. The kid was golden when he helped Pittsburgh win two straight Stanley Cups to kick off his career, but he had the smiling, supporting Fleury there on both occasions (and let’s not forget how key Fleury was in one of those runs when Murray got hurt at the beginning of the playoffs).
Perhaps Poile saw what’s happening in Pittsburgh and decided to hedge his bets. Perhaps he just knows how valuable Rinne is to his franchise both on and off the ice and decided that he wanted to see Rinne retire in that bold, golden jersey.
Really, he couldn’t go wrong, no matter what the motivation was.