Major Honours Continue To Elude Rinne
Since breaking in to the NHL in 2008, Pekka Rinne was one major honour to his name – a World Championships silver medal. This fact is somehow mind boggling.
This is not to decry his efforts, or that of his teams mates, during last years tournament – but a World Championship silver isn’t a Cup ring, an Olympic gold or a Vezina Trophy. And for a netminder of Rinne’s talent, that’s a crying shame.
At 32, the Finnish stopper might wonder if he is ever destined to reach the very top of the game. And as time ticks by, do we now start to ponder whether Rinne will become the best netminder to never win a major honour?
Rinne has long been the ace up Nashville’s sleeve. Before the Predators added some much needed offensive talent last summer, the clubs bread and butter was defence. Weber, Suter, Josi et al formed a formidable unit, at the heart of which sat Rinne.
The 6’5″ puck stopper became the very definition of Mitch Korn’s famous “we’re looking for the most-skilled, biggest guy we can find” line, sitting at the forefront of the league’s burgeoning crop of giant goaltenders.
His value to a Nashville side still frequently battling to prove itself was no more evident than last season, when Rinne struggled with a hip injury before being sidelined by complications arising from corrective surgery.
In all Rinne missed 51 games as the Predators missed the play-offs for the second straight season, with Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec, Devan Dubnyk and Magnus Hellberg struggling to fill the gap. It cost Head Coach Barry Trotz his job and even cast doubts over Rinne’s own future as he slowly recovered.
Fast forward 11 months and Rinne is again among statistical leaders in the NHL, whilst Nashville have found their way to the upper echelons of the standings for the first time in years.
Ordinarily you’d think back stopping your team to the top of the league, posting a .926 save percentage and 2.11 GAA, whilst picking up 37 wins (in spite of an 8 game lay off), might be enough to claim a Vezina Trophy – and perhaps even consideration for the Hart Trophy.
But for Rinne, another year of outstanding play looks set to go unappreciated by the annals of time.
Montreal netminder Carey Price leads the league in save percentage (.936), goals against average (1.91) and wins (38), and looks to have the Vezina locked up – perhaps the Hart too – whilst Rinne’s own effort garner some light praise, but ultimately fall in the shadow of the Canadiens #1.
Price’s efforts have been outstanding, and the Team Canada netminder will fully deserve any plaudits that come his way, but for Rinne it’s an all too familiar tale – one of unappreciated excellence once the dust has settled.
In 2010/11 he posted a remarkable .930 save percentage, but saw Tim Thomas truly outstanding effort secure the Flint native his second Vezina. A year later Rinne recorded his first 40 win season, but watched Henrik Lundqvist claim goaltending top accolade.
By the written definition of the Hart Trophy, the “player judged most valuable to his team”, Rinne could have been adjudged the league’s most valuable player multiple times – but again he receives appreciative nods and little more as brighter lights have their name etched in history.
Is it a byproduct of playing in Nashville? A city where the local paper announced Mike Fisher’s signing as “Predators Sign Carrie Underwood’s Husband”. Perhaps a little. The Predators have never been a big draw for neutral fans (or ‘awards voters’), which may sometimes be an unfair view to have of the team, but one that holds up when you compare the Tennessee outfit to the Bostons, Montreals and New Yorks of the league.
But the reality is Rinne has been, for lack of a better term, ‘unlucky’. That for every great season he has had, someone else has been greater in that year. Thomas, Lundqvist, Quick, now Price. All consistently among the games best with Rinne, all seemingly just doing that little bit more to help their team.
Even internationally Rinne’s fate has been a little cruel. Unless an agreement is made to send NHL stars to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, he may never get a taste of the Olympic experience. While Finland may have become masters of the bronze medal, Rinne was omitted from the 2010 team before injury ruled him out of the Sochi games last year.
There is almost a strange air of misfortune around Rinne.
And sadly, despite being one of the most valuable players to his particular team for the past 7 years, that may be the way it stays – ‘always the bridesmaid’, as they say.
Unless Nashville can continue to defy expectations and go on a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals this spring, the Kempele native is unlikely to hoist the sports biggest prize above his head either.
Few in the game have been as talented whilst garnering such little praise, so few plaudits. And that’s a crying shame. You could form a perfectly coherent argument that he has been the most valuable player to his particular team in the entire NHL since claiming the starting role in Tennessee – with Nashville oft living and dying by his play in their ‘defence first’ system.
Without Rinne, there is every chance we’d talk about relocating Nashville in the same way we do Florida or Arizona – such is his, often unheralded, impact on the franchise. To perform to such a high standard, year-in, year-out with little offensive support speaks volumes. To keep the team competitive, to keep people interested, is a feat of its own at times.
But history spares little thought for such men – they live more in folklore than anything. Great players from a teams past, spoken about in passionate whispers in bars around the city.
Before his career is done, Rinne deserves his dues. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen.