Pekka Rinne had a stellar season. Coming into the 2017-18 season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, Rinne played out of his mind during the regular season. He was in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy for much of the season and I will be absolutely astounded if he doesn’t win it later this month.
Our favorite Finnish netminder came into this season amid questions of “is he too old?” and “did Pittsburgh break Rinne?” However, without the incredible performance of Rinne, Nashville would likely have not taken the President’s Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
He played 59 games this season, a record low since becoming starting netminder (excluding his injury-riddled 2013-14 season). Juuse Saros proved his worth as backup, allowing Rinne to be well-rested for the playoffs.
Nashville fans were a little disappointed in Rinne’s playoff performance this season. After playing like a Norse god last season in the playoffs, Rinne looked merely average against Colorado and Winnipeg. Rinne’s save percentage was .904% in the playoffs in 2018... not so awesome.
For me, Rinne’s lackluster playoffs became a disaster the minute Nikita Zadorov ripped a wrist shot over Rinne’s glove early in the first period of Game 1. Nearly the same thing happened again in Game 2, but this time, it was Gabriel Bourque’s shot finding twine early with Rinne looking behind him for the puck. It didn’t seem like Rinne was really dialed in for Round 1.
The Predators played poorly enough in front of Rinne twice in Round 2 for Coach Laviolette to bench him. Rinne said himself after Game 7 that he felt responsible for the loss.
Expect Rinne to start fewer games in 2018-19. While his starts will be metered, Rinne himself has tons of trust in Saros. Their relationship is incredible. Rinne could be salty over Saros, but he chooses to mentor the younger Finn and supports him in every game. That’s the kind of man Pekka Rinne is. Saros is putting up incredible numbers in his early 20s, and it’s very likely Saros would be less successful in another organization without the mentoring of Rinne.
Predators fans should tune in to next week’s NHL Awards on June 20th. Rinne is the hands-down candidate for the Vezina and I will stage a protest if Pekka Rinne does not receive his first Vezina Trophy. #Rinne4Vezina
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t emotional when Rinne was emotional over his 300th win. He spent the entire interview thanking Nashville fans and giving all kinds of love to his teammates. That’s Rinne... selfless, humble, and genuine.
The worst part of Rinne being pulled in Game 7 was the shot of him in the tunnel. Rinne believed he let his team down and took responsibility for the Game 7 loss and early playoff exit.
In that same Game 7, Rinne gave Saros fist bumps when Saros returned to the bench during a break. Again, that’s just the kind of man that Rinne is.
Final Grade: Vezina
Pekka Rinne is the backbone of the Nashville Predators. He’s a proven leader on and off the ice. His 2017-18 season is Vezina Trophy-worthy, and he will likely be holding that trophy proudly in a few days.
His playoff performance leaves plenty of questions. Did he play too many games this season? Is age catching up to the 35-year old? Could the Predators use both goaltenders in the playoffs next season? Was Rinne’s playoff performance a symptom of the whole team’s performance in April and May?
Many of those questions will have to be answered as next season begins. There is no doubt that Pekka Rinne will be in net to start the 2018-19 season. The net is still his, but Rinne is slowly handing over the keys to Saros.