The Case For Trading Pekka Rinne

LOS ANGELES CA - NOVEMBER 06: Goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators looks on prior to being replaced in the second period during the NHL game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on November 6 2010 in Los Angeles California. The Kings scored four goals against Rinne before he was replaced by back-up goaltender Anders Lindback #39. The Kings defeated the Predators 4-1. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Don't shoot! I know Pekka Rinne was the Predators' MVP last season. I know he's among the very best goalies in hockey. And I don't want to trade him. With all the cap space David Poile has cleared, we could easily keep him.

But the Predators need to make a trade for a top six forward. And with Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne both unrestricted free agents after this coming season, many Predators fans seem reconciled to the idea of trading one. 

Between the two, I'm keeping Suter. In fact, the case for trading Rinne is so strong, I think Poile should consider it, regardless of Suter's situation. My basic assertions are:

  1. Pekka will likely not repeat last season's success.
  2. Pekka will be easier to replace from within the organization. 
  3. The drop-off in performance from Pekka's likely replacement will be smaller than that from Suter's likely replacement both this season and in the future.
  4. Suter's leaving would be extremely detrimental to both the performance of Shea Weber specifically and the team at large. Rinne's performance is mostly self-contained.   
  5. Suter will be a better investment for a long-term contract. 

1. Pekka will likely not repeat last season's success.

 

Pekka Rinne had a .930 SV% last season. The only player to ever sustain several consecutive seasons of .930 SV%'s was Dominik Hasek. He's not, however, the only player to ever achieve the feat. Here's how everyone else did:

Player Year SV% Next Season Change
Thomas 10.11 .938 ?? ??
Rinne 10.11. .930 ?? ??
Thomas 08.09 .933 .915 -.018
Kiprusoff 03.04 .933 .923 -.010
Roloson 03.04 .933 .908 -.022
Luongo 03.04 .931 .914 -.017
Turco 02.03 .932 .913 -.019
Theodore 01.02 .931 .908 -.023

 

The extent of the drops vary, but the undeniable truth is everyone who reached the .930 SV% plateau in the past decade performed significantly worse the next season. Will Pekka Rinne buck this trend and become the next Dominik Hasek? I don't know...will Jose Bautista become the next Babe Ruth? Maybe...but it's not a winning bet. 

The biggest sign for potential regression with Pekka is his ranking second in short-handed Save% last season. Research shows a goalie's save percentage on the PK to be essentially random year-to-year. That means, when projecting Pekka's 2011-12 PK SV%, we're better off going with the league average than his own .912.

This past season the average PK SV% was .879, among qualified players (the "true" long-term average is around .865). If Pekka had performed closer to that average, his SV% would be .924, still great, but not quite as all-world. Next year, I'd project him in the .920-.922 range. 

2. Pekka will be easier to replace from within the organization.

Mitch Korn is awesome. He made Hasek, Hasek. Vokoun, Vokoun. He got us to the playoffs with Dan Ellis and Chris Mason. Nashville's goalie coach is arguably its biggest organizational strength. 

Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback both came to North America at age 22. Lindback made the team right away; Rinne spent 3 on-and-off years with the Admirals before becoming Dan Ellis' back up his breakout year. 

By the time he's 28, I think Anders will be pretty darn good. And in the meantime, he can probably be average. 

3. The drop-off in performance from Pekka's likely replacement will be smaller than that from Suter's likely replacement both this season and in the future.

This point is similar but different from #2. While I trust Mitch Korn's ability to develop another great goalie in the long-run, I also think the drop-off from Pekka to Anders will be manageable in the short term.

Since Lindback's performance last season was a very small sample size, let's estimate his "true talent" as .910 SV%. And going off the earlier assumption that Pekka's "true talent" is closer to .920 than .910, we can estimate the drop off between the two:

Goalie SA SV% GA
Rinne 1700 .920 136
Lindback 1700 .910 153

(1700 shots=~60 Games Started)

The difference is 17 goals. And using the rule of thumb that 5-6 goals=1 win, the difference over the season would be about 3 wins. Now let's compare Suter, versus some likely replacements. I've prorated their Corsi Ratings (Shots Against/Shots For) to 19 Even Strength Minutes per game, Suter's typical ice time:

Player SA/60 SA/G
Suter +5 +1.3
Klein -10 -3.1
Bouillon -8 -2.5

 

Over the course of the season, the difference between Suter and Bouillon is 25 goals or ~4-5 wins. The difference between Klein and Suter is ~5-6 wins. In either case, it's clearly a bigger drop in team performance than from Rinne to Lindback. 

Of course, these calculations are just estimates, and there are several factors that make estimating defensive performance difficult. In Suter's favor, he faced much tougher minutes this season than either Klein or Bouillon. In Klein and Bouillon's defense, they played with worse teammates, most notably, each other.

But the basic point stands: the Predators barely have any capable second-pairing defensemen on the team, much less replacements for Suter. And given the inherent variability of goaltender performance, the Rinne/Lindback transition could go anywhere from OK to poorly, while Suter's leaving would be a surefire problem. 

4. Suter's leaving would be extremely detrimental to both the performance of Shea Weber specifically and the team at large. Rinne's performance is mostly self-contained.

Shea Weber was -10 without Suter this season, +17 with him. As a criticism of Weber, that number is over-cited--he was carrying an aging Bouillon, after all. But as an argument for not trading Ryan Suter, it's pretty strong.

Suter is the team's best puck-moving defenseman and their best defensive defenseman. He pushes the play up ice to the benefit of everyone. The Predators had a serious problem getting caught in their own end last year, and it could only get worse without Suter. 

"Chaining" is also an issue here. As either Klein or Bouillon takes on more responsibility, so too does everyone below them on the depth chart. That means six defenseman with tougher jobs and worse teammates, as opposed to one goalie with more responsibility. 

5. Suter will be a better investment for a long-term contract.

While the goaltender market has mostly corrected itself in recent years, with more teams recognizing the unreliable nature of goalie performance, there will seemingly always be one team willing to pay way above the market rate for a top-end stopper.  This offseason, Illya Bryzgalov received a 9 year cap contract with a cap hit of $5,666,667 per year. Pekka could easily command 10/$60M. And that's not the type of contract to hand out to a 29 year-old goalie. 

Besides the aforementioned variability in performance, goalies typically don't age well into their mid-30s. Here's a stat that's a little dated, but shows the amount of games played by goalies of different ages from 2005-2010:

Age Games
30 975
31 1019
32 893
33 851
34 591
35 351
36 279

 

Suter will be 27 after next season. And similar defenseman, who rely on superior positioning and on-ice awareness, have had long careers. Suter will also likely take a contract a small step down from whatever Weber demands.

Conclusion

In the short-term, there are some persuasive arguments against trading Pekka Rinne. He was Nashville's MVP last season. The organizational depth at defense is far better than that at goalie. Given the long-term risk associated with big goalie contracts, however, and the team's short-term inability to replace a true first-pairing defenseman, the Predators should trade Rinne, not Ryan Suter, given a choice between the two.

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