After an uncharacteristically bad 2019-20, it's safe to say that the sun is beginning to set on Pekka Rinne's storied career.
The darling of Nashville lore, Rinne still resides deep in the hearts of Predators' fans- even after cobbling together some of his worst career stats this season. Since Juuse Saros came into the league in 2016, it's been common knowledge that the Preds are grooming him to inherit Rinne's starting role. The transition from Rinne to Saros went into full swing this season; as Rinne continued to struggle, Saros dramatically improved.
Rinne started the 2019-20 season in pretty typical, Rinne-like fashion. He went 8-0-2 in his first 10 games, amassing a .924 save percentage and recording back-to-back shutouts on Oct. 24 against Minnesota and Oct. 29 against Chicago. Rinne proceeded to drop his next four starts, allowing 18 goals while facing an average of under 20 shots per game. He hardly improved after his November rough patch, basically breaking even with a 10-10-2 record for the rest of the season.
Though Rinne staunched the bleeding from the early half of his season, his stats flatlined- and not in a good way. As of the season finale on Mar. 12, Rinne's save percentage is .895 and his Goals-Against Average is 3.17- a career low and a career high, respectively. Rinne's .457 quality start percentage (QS%) is the lowest of his career, and his 11 Really Bad Starts (this is an actual statistic, notated as RBS) ties his 2015-16 total for the most in a single season, per Hockey Reference. With the exception of his injury-tolled 2013-14 season, Rinne also saw the least ice time of his career in 2019-20, marking the first time in six years that Rinne played fewer total minutes than his backup.
While Rinne's goalie stats took a heavy blow this season, it was his offense that gained leaguewide renown.
On Jan. 9 in Chicago, Rinne scored the NHL's first goalie goal since Mike Smith's in October of 2013- just the eighth goalie goal in NHL history. Not only that, it was also Rinne's first career goal after 650 games in the league. Oh yeah, it was also scored from 189 feet away. Any time a goalie manages to score a goal, it's a special day for him, the team, and the NHL itself. Pekka Rinne's goal took on even more special connotations; in his worst NHL season, with his successful career quickly winding down, there were precious few things that could be chalked up to a redemption story for Rinne. In the home barn of the Preds' biggest rival since Detroit was dislodged from the Western Conference in 2013, Rinne arguably provided a counterweight to his lackluster season in net. Punctuated by (subjectively) one of the best team celebrations ever, Rinne's goal won Goal of the Year honors in the NHL's Greatest Moments of the Season series. In addition to his goal, Rinne also logged two assists this season- making it the second-highest point total of his career. And, not that it really matters, but Rinne also has scored more goals than Dan Hamhuis this season.
For Rinne, it's his legacy that counts more than what he did in a single season. Rinne's other positive moment of 2019-20 came on Dec. 23 when the Preds defeated the Coyotes. Picking up his 354th career win, Rinne officially passed Rogie Vachon and Evgeni Nabokov for 20th place on the NHL's all-time wins list- ranking fourth among active NHL goalies. Rinne's career save percentage of .917 ranks 17th all-time and 10th among active goalies. His career 2.42 GAA is the fourth best among active goaltenders, behind just Tuukka Rask (2.265), Ben Bishop (2.32), and Jonathan Quick (2.39). Rinne is also tied with Tony Esposito at 45 postseason wins for the 25th most of all time.
Hailed as one of the biggest draft steals in NHL history, Rinne was chosen 258th overall in 2004 by David Poile, who has since made sure Rinne spends his entire career in a Preds uniform. Alongside Shea Weber, Jordin Tootoo, and Kevin Klein, Rinne led the Admirals to the AHL Championship in 2005-06. Rinne started in net for the Finns during the 2009 World Championship, ultimately getting eliminated by Preds teammate Ryan Suter and the American squad in the quarterfinals. Coincidentally, Rinne's other Preds teammate, Weber, took home the honors for the 2009 WC's Best Defenseman.
Rinne has one year left on his two-year, $10 million contract with the Preds. There has been no serious indication that he plans to retire in 2021, but given his age and recent stats, the Preds might just be better off signing him to a cheap, 35+ kind of deal since not many other teams are going to be interested in his free agency. Either way, number 35 is likely to be the first one to be retired in franchise history. Pekka Rinne's impact on the Nashville community has been too great and too steadfast for that not to be the case, really.