A Conversation with Pekka Rinne

The Nashville Predators ended their recent “goalie controversy” by signing Pekka Rinne to a two-year, $6.8 million contract that will pay the big netminder $2.8 million in 2010-11 and $4.0 million in 2011-12.

Over the last couple of months, neither Rinne or Dan Ellis has been dominant enough to lay claim to the number one goalie slot as both have struggled in net at times. Coach Barry Trotz even tried an every-other-game rotation for an extended period. Predator’s General Manager David Poile made his choice clear by signing Rinne before decisions are made prior to next Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline.

Both Rinne and Ellis were slated to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. Rinne is making $725,000 this season, while Ellis is receiving $2 million. There is little chance that the Predators will re-sign Ellis with the additional salary now committed to Rinne.

It is unclear if the Predators will attempt to deal Dan Ellis at the trade deadline in exchange for another goal scorer for the offensively challenged team. If Ellis were to be dealt, the Preds would have to pick up another goalie since no one in their system is ready to make the jump to the NHL.

This season, Rinne is 20-12-4 with three shutouts after last year’s rookie year, when he was 29-15-4 with seven shutouts.

Pekka was in good spirits after the signing was announced, “It’s a relief. Anytime you are in your last year, it’s always in the back of your mind.”

“I love being here. I like the organization,” Rinne stated. “They have always supported me. I’ve grown up here in the organization, the first three years in Milwaukee and then two years here.”

When asked if he considered testing free agency over the summer, Rinne’s intentions were clear. “From the beginning, my goal was to stay here and not have to wait until the summer.”

With the additional money, will come higher expectations, and more pressure. Pekka is ready for the additional responsibility saying, “That’s a part of it. I want to be a number one [goalie] in this league and do well, so this is the next step.”

Pekka has enjoyed the Olympic break. “I went home [to Finland] and visited my family and went a lot of places where I grew up. I did a lot of stuff I used to do as a kid. It was a lot of fun.”

He further explained, “I played some pond hockey with my friends and took some pictures. It was nice to go back like I was 15 years old again. I skated because I didn’t bring my goalie equipment. It was just like back in the day.”

Pekka has had an eye on the Olympics, “It’s nice to see my teammates playing well and playing in big rolls like Sutter and Weber and same thing with Hornqvist, Marty, Goc and Sulzer.”

Pekka was watching when teammate Shea Weber put a shot through the netting on Tuesday. “I was with Joel Ward, and we were laughing. We know how heavy his shot is, and we think that proves to everyone that he has one of the hardest shots out there.”

Pekka was laughing when asked if Weber’s hard shots kept him from going to another team where he would have to face him. “He’s already one of the top players in the league, and he’s only going to get better and the same thing with Suter. Being a goalie with defensemen like that in front of you, it’s a big reason [to stay].”

On having six Preds at the Olympics, Rinne said, “It’s a great experience for those guys, and for a lot of guys it’s a one time experience, and it’s something that I can only imagine.”

He is expecting the Olympic experience to be a positive thing for the Predators. “I think it’s going to bring a lot of good things to our team, just to play with the top guys in the league and play against the top guys in the league is a really good thing for all our big guys.”

The Predators returned to practice on Monday. “The atmosphere is really relaxed,” Rinne said. “Everyone is working hard and trying to get back to game form and get your mind back to playing hockey. You can tell everybody had a good time [off] and relaxed and [is ready] to get back on the ice.”

The Predators return to the ice next Tuesday in a game against Edmonton in the newly named Bridgestone Arena. They are currently in seventh place in the tightly bunched Western Conference.

“Our immediate goal is to make the playoffs,” Rinne said. “It’s going to be a really tight race. There are 21 games left, and it’s going to be interesting. I can say that we are ready to go.”

On Wednesday, Pekka was getting ready for the Predator’s Cowboy-themed Gala. He described his attire as “a basic cowboy theme, nothing over the top this year, but I’m sure it will be pretty funny.”

Pekka Rinne may look funny in cowboy garb, but the Predator’s opponents will not be laughing when facing Pekka in in the net, wearing his normal goalie attire.

Congratulations to Pekka, his agent Jay Grossman, and the Predator organization for getting a deal done that will keep the big man in goal for the next two seasons.

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