If one was to poll a group of Nashville Predators fans for their three favorite hometown players, you might receive a variety of responses. Sure, there may be a great many “Weber,” “Suter,” “Tootoo” answers. There may even be the occasional nod to more polarizing players, such as McGrattan or Legwand. However, it’s a safe bet that one player that will appear in most lists is Pekka Rinne. It’s difficult not to like the Finnish giant. His affable personality, underdog story, and charming accent make him an easy sell. No one batted an eye when he signed his recent 7 year, 49 million dollar extension, the largest in team history(for the moment). How could you? He’s the typically infallible last line of defense on a team that lives and dies by its ability to make 2 and 3 goals per game stand up. He was denied the Vezina trophy for the league’s top netminder only by an almost supernatural season from Tim Thomas last year. As he goes, so go the Nashville Predators.
So, when the NHL released the names of this season’s All-Star Game, there was a glaring omission in the eyes of the collective Predator fans. Sure, the twin towers of defensive awesomeosity, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were there. Rookie sensation Craig “The Honey Badger” Smith was elected to the rookie team. But what about Pekka? Surely this must be a mistake, or the latest example of league disrespect for the oft-overlooked, blue-collar team from Music City?
Well, maybe not.
Pekka Rinne is having a respectable season. In fact, his 21 wins is good for 2nd in the league. Then again, his 38 appearances is also 2nd in the league, so one could argue that he’s had more chances to cultivate those victories, but as Crispy likes to say, “they don’t ask how, they just ask how many.” However, by his own admission, Rinne’s season has been a bit of a rollercoaster, as evidenced by the way his stats tail off from there. His save percentage, consistently north of the 92.5 mark last season, is in the upper reaches of the 91s this year to put him in the middle of the pack among starters. Similarly, his 2.57 GAA is below the standard he has previously set. Now, that’s not to say he’s been bad. As mentioned before, the Predators are holding on to a playoff spot for the moment, and Rinne has been in net for all but two of those victories. However, if you take a look at the amount of games that Rinne has allowed 3 or more goals– 18 of his total 38 appearances, one could begin to wonder if some of those victories were in SPITE of his play, rather than because of it. Of course, it’s unfair to pin all of that on Rinne, given the uncharacteristic defensive struggles the Predators have suffered, especially in the early going. Ultimately though, it’s really the only metric that you can use to a judge a goaltender.
With all of that said, Rinne has still been largely reliable for the Predators, and the results have been mostly good. But “mostly good” and “largely reliable” aren’t always enough to vault you into an All-Star game, especially not when the competition is as fierce as it is, this season. It’s not that Rinne has played poorly, it’s just that inclusion in this game isn’t based on your entire career body of work. The criteria is culled only from this season, and even the most biased Predators fan in me can’t say that he’s been better or more critical to his team’s success than any of the five goaltenders that were named. For reference, I’ve included their general statistics below for your examination. It would be difficult for any objective fan to make a reasonable case for Rinne over any of these guys, with the exception of Carey Price, who plays for a significantly worse team with a terrible defense. Additionally, Price fulfills the league’s “at least 1 per team” mandate.
At the end of the day, like everyone else, I would have liked to see Rinne get in, but I felt that of the “Big 3,” he had the longest shot this season. I’m more pleased that Ryan Suter was recognized than I am outraged that Rinne wasn’t, since his game is a little bit harder to appreciate quantitatively. I can say with reasonable confidence that regardless of this season’s results, Rinne will get his chance in more than one All-Star game, before all is said and done.
24 W(1st), 92.4% SP(8th), 2.05 GAA(6th)
18 W(7th), 93.4% SP(5th), 1.93 GAA(4th)
15 W(15th), 91.3% SP(24th), 2.46 GAA(20th)
19 W(4th), 93.9% SP(3rd), 1.85 GAA(3rd)
15 W (15th), 94.0% SP(2nd), 1.62 GAA(2nd)