Twenty-nine teams passed on a hungry, 6-foot-5, 22-year-old Finnish goaltender for eight rounds of the 2004 NHL draft.
But with pick No. 258, the final pick of the eighth round, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile was drafting the cornerstone of his franchise and he didn’t even know it. For 15 years, Pekka Rinne has embodied not only what it means to be an elite goalie in the most competitive hockey league in the world. He personified what it means to be an elite human being as well.
On Tuesday, 369 wins, 60 shutouts, 17,627 saves, eight playoff appearances and one Vezina Trophy later, Rinne announced he has decided it is time to walk away from the game he has at several times dominated since taking over the full-time starting job in 2008.
“This decision wasn’t easy,” Rinne wrote in the Players’ Tribune. “I spent the summer in Nashville with my fiancée, Erika, and our six-month-old son, Paulus. My body still feels like it could compete at the highest level … but my decision was about a lot more than that. Every time I looked at my son, at Erika — I just felt like a different person, almost, if that makes sense.
“My priorities had changed, and my mind knew that, even if my body didn’t. And when I really thought about what it would mean to not come back to the rink at the end of the summer, it just felt like the right choice, and the right time.”
Rinne’s leaves behind a legacy that is second to none. His 369 wins are the most for a Finnish-born goaltender and rank 19th all-time in NHL history. He became the first Predators player to win an individual NHL performance award with his Vezina win in 2017, and his King Clancy Memorial Trophy win in June — honoring how much Rinne truly gave back to the community — was the perfect tribute for exactly what the 38-year-old goalie has meant to the Nashville fan base.
“The impact the Predators organization helped (myself and Shea Weber) make in the community (through the 36 Pediatric Fund) … It means as much to me as any banner hanging in the rafters at Bridgestone,” Rinne added.
Sure, Rinne was always ranked at or near the top of most major statistical goalie categories every year, but you would never know by the way he carried himself in the locker room and off the ice.
Rarely did any player earn a more thunderous roar of support at Bridgestone Arena during pre-game player introductions or the post-game awarding of the “three stars of the game” than Rinne did. Now, it’s strange to think that a 5-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on May 10 was the final time we’d hear both.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_