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Can 2019-2020 be the year Pekka Rinne lifts the Stanley Cup?

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In the postseason exit interviews conducted a little over three weeks ago, Pekka Rinne mentioned to reporters that he wasn’t looking past the next two seasons in terms of his future with the franchise. It’s pretty evident now that unless something unimaginable happens Pekka Rinne will be a Predator for life. He will retire in gold and his jersey might be the very first to hang in Bridgestone Arena. However, can the Predators play for #35’s long-awaited Stanley Cup? Here’s Pekka Rinne’s postseason interview:

This postseason was a disaster. There’s really no other way to put it. More mathematically-inclined writers will be able to put into context exactly what went wrong for Nashville against Dallas. The offense didn’t show up except in the form of undersized Rocco Grimaldi. The star blueliners seemed like a shadow of themselves. The only constant, as it’s been all season, was the man in net for Nashville.

Aside from a Game 4 debacle, Rinne showed up for the Predators in the first round when they didn’t show up for him. We knew the series would be tight against Dallas. Ben Bishop put on a show in Dallas’s net, posting an incredible .979 Sv% in Dallas’s Game 6 overtime victory. Nashville simply didn’t do enough to expose Bishop’s weaknesses, but that’s a conversation for another day.

The reality is that with few exceptions, Pekka Rinne continues to provide the Nashville Predators with solid, reliable goaltending, even in the face of harsh criticism from those who feel that the 36-year old Finn is not the solution. Let’s be clear: Rinne is part of the answer and not part of the problem. He remains in top shape. How many 36-year-old beer league goalies can stretch and flex the way Rinne does? None.

Often praised for being a kind person who is willing to always answer interview questions, Rinne sits on the bench and cheers for Juuse Saros as Saros prepares to take over the net. It would be easy for Rinne to be hostile toward the eventual starting goaltender, but he chooses to mentor Saros. The net will be Rinne’s on opening night in Bridgestone Arena, but we should prepare for the changing of the guard.

Rinne played in 56 games this season, a career low since his days as a backup. Saros stood tall in relief of Rinne when the latter was injured in the late fall of 2018. His regular season numbers are respectable: a .918 Sv%, 2.42 GSAA (goals scored against average), and a 30-19-4 record.

It’s my opinion that Rinne was in the starter’s crease a little too much as the season drew to a close, but there were reports of a late-season injury to Saros that have kept him from joining Team Finland at Worlds. However, the late-season starts didn’t seem to affect Rinne’s play.

Adam Vingan and John Glennon of The Athletic note that Rinne and Saros finished as the fifth-best goalie tandem in the League, with a collective 86.72 high-danger save percentage and 92.77 overall save percentage. Outside of a few bad starts for either Finnish goalie, the Predators benefitted from excellent goaltending all year. Here’s one of my favorite saves from #35 from Round One:

Here’s Rinne stacking the pads like an old-school goalie against Buffalo’s Jack Eichel:

Since Rinne is only focused on his current two-year deal, he would be 38 at the end of the 2020-2021 season. His new deal comes with a smaller $5 million cap hit. Hometown discount or not, Rinne isn’t demanding a massive deal at his age because he knows the future is sitting next to him in the Nashville locker room.

Two seasons is more than enough time for the coaches and the management to put together a team to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve spent plenty of time dissecting the power play and identifying the need for additional scoring up front. The incredible Nashville defense had some massive issues this season, exposing Rinne (and Saros) when he should have been protected.

With regular people like us seeing these flaws, that has to mean that Predators management and coaching also sees it, right? In interview after interview, each player praises Rinne for his stellar work in goal. While Rinne might try to shoulder the blame for a poor game, his teammates deserve some criticism too. Every single player in gold must find a way to step up for their netminder in the 2019-2020 season. His work ethic, humility, and superhuman effort in every game should inspire the Predators to play for Pekka this coming season. No more “rise up” or “dog-on-a-bone” motivational themes...the Predators have ALL the inspiration they need in their locker room.

Can you picture Rinne lifting the Cup? I can.

All statistics are from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com.