It appears that Pekka Rinne will finish his career in the place it started.
The Nashville Predators locked up the 36-year-old netminder on a two-year extension, a lead that will pay him $10 million over its course ($6 million in 2019-20, $4 million in 2020-21). Rinne was drafted by the Preds in the eighth round in 2004. Since then, he’s become the club’s franchise leader in too many records to count.
Not a bad birthday present, again.
Essentially, Rinne takes a hometown discount here. His annual average value will drop from $7 million to $5 million beginning next year, dropping him outside the top 10 highest paid goalies. This is important and we will get to it in a second.
“Pekka Rinne has been the most impactful player our franchise has ever had, both on the ice as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, and off the ice as a leader in the community,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “Both the organization and Pekka want him to play his entire career with the Predators, and this helps accomplish that objective, while also stabilizing our goaltending for at least the next two seasons beyond 2018-19. We feel the tandem of Pekka and Juuse Saros is among the best in the League.”
The move might seem quizzical at first glance. The Preds have been grooming Saros as Rinne’s heir-apparent for a while now, so why give Rinne another big-money extension while limiting Saros’ role over the next couple of seasons?
Saros was impressive in his stint as a starter this season with Rinne out with an injury. In eight games (five of which he started in Rinne’s absence) Saros has posted a 6-2-0 record with a .917 save percentage.
The thing is, you can’t just let Rinne go while he’s still on top of his game. He won the Vezina for the first time in his career last season and despite his injury, has the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the league at .961 and owns a 4-1-0 record.
Skeptics will point to his playoff performance last season, including his Game 7 debacle in the second round against Winnipeg, and that’s fair game. Rinne was disastrous, falling from his .927 regular season save percentage mark to .904 in the postseason, including a dreadful .848 in home games.
Perhaps the playoffs were just a blip on the radar. Rinne hasn’t shown any ill-effects stemming from it. It seems Nashville is comfortable with how Rinne has rebounded after putting all the blame on his own shoulders following their playoff exit.
What Poile has engineered here, then, is quite clever. Rinne and Saros (whose cap hit is $1.5 million for the next three seasons) will make a combined $6.5 million, $500,000 less than Rinne is making this year.
Given that the Preds are already counting $69 million toward the cap next year, it’s pretty brilliant that they can keep arguably the best one-two punch between the pipes for a while more.
There’s little risk here. There’s no lengthy term, the money is right and there’s more time to ease Saros into the starter’s role, which is ultimately good for the future of the franchise.
Nashville’s attention now needs to turn to defenseman Roman Josi, who will be looking for a big money extension. The Preds will also have Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman and Colton Sissons as restricted-free agents at the end of this season.
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Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck