"SLASHVILLE," screamed the cover of The Hockey News's "Money Issue" that arrived in my mailbox just yesterday. "Suter. Weber. Rinne. Who Would You Kiss Goodbye?"
Like a multiple choice test, we can now eliminate at least one of those answers. The Nashville Predators, a team closely-watched around the league this season as it figures out how to handle a tangle of two top defensemen and a stalwart goaltender who are all on the verge of some form of free agency, began to unravel yesterday when they came to terms with goalie Pekka Rinne on a 7-year, $49-million deal.
It was a pretty sweet 29th birthday present for Rinne, who was drafted by Nashville in the eighth round in 2004. He has been part of a conveyer belt of goalies identified-by and developed-within the Predators' defense-first system championed by coach Barry Trotz and bolstered by legendary goalie coach Mitch Korn (who once worked with Dominik Hasek during his glory days with the Buffalo Sabres.) The Finnish netminder celebrated his birthday and new windfall with a 35-save shutout over the Phoenix Coyotes, his third blanking of the season.
Reaction to the deal has been mixed. On the one hand, Rinne is by most definitions one of the league's best in breed — he earned second in Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) voting last season and placed fourth for the Hart (the league's MVP) and so far has started every game for the Preds. On the other hand, goaltending can be a fickle position, that's a whole lot of dough, and Nashville's own status as something of a goalie factory almost ends up working against it — can't they just churn out a new, cheaper model?
But with Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, unrestricted and restricted free agents after this season, watching how this all plays out, getting Rinne nailed down was as much a sheer show of commitment as anything else. The Predators are not a team who are facing salary cap restraints, but nor are they a team with a bottomless pocketbook. Dealing with Weber and Suter will be a difficult task and no one would be surprised if they can't end up affording all three players. But they've inched closer, at least. One down, two to go.
Other goalie news from around the league:
- A 39-year old goalie who had been injured for the better part of a month returned back to action against a team that currently holds the NHL's best record. Shockingly, Martin Brodeur did not play well. After letting in five goals, however, he began to show shades of his former with a remarkable stick stop on Toronto's Phil Kessel.
- Embattled Columbus netminder Steve Mason inched closer to becoming the latest Jim Carey archetype Thursday night, giving up 4 goals on 11 shots to Toronto — "We scored awful easy," said Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, rubbing it in, "the other kid had a tough night." On the other end of the ice, third-string goalie Ben Scrivens (so Dickensian, right?) had a big showing, with 38 saves on the night.
- Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, who returned this year after missing all of last season with a torn ACL and MCL, was in net for two hard-fought back-to-back wins between the Wild and the Detroit Red Wings, making 36 saves in a 1-0 shutout on Saturday and stopping another 36 Tuesday to help Minnesota win 2-1 in overtime. He picked up his third victory of the season two days later 5-1 over Vancouver, stopping 24 shots and giving Wild coach Mike Yeo a tough decision between the surging Harding and the season-starting Niklas Backstrom.
- Two goalies who once led their proud nations to the Olympic gold medal game have now been booed by ungrateful home fans. While Roberto Luongo has fared better after a dismal start — check out this sick glove save on Ovechkin — Buffalo's goalie Ryan Miller heard some displeasure on Wednesday night after allowing two goals in the game's first 11 seconds. (They're not booing, they're saying Buffalooooo!) "They bought their tickets, they can do whatever they want, he said after the game. "They were cheering when I made a save, boo when I don’t. Whatever.”
It's been a rough go for Jaroslav Halak this year, but this stop on Edmonton's Taylor Hall was a beauty. Ho-ly jumpin' indeed.
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