The Korn Influence Pt. 3: Pekka Rinne, a Franchise Goalie

This mini-series is about Mitch Korn, the sometimes forgotten goalie coach who has also been there since day one. I hope to write out this five piece series on Mitch Korn and his contributions to the Predators organization.

Part 1 – Beginnings: Dominik Hasek, Mike Dunham and Tomas Vokoun

Part 2 – The Middle Years: Mason, Ellis, Lindback

Part 3 –Pekka Rinne – The King

Pekka Rinne, The Goalie we deserve, the goalie we need.

Surpassing all expectations, Rinne progressed through the Predators ranks with limited setbacks. His development is a testimony to Korn’s Coaching, Trotz’s forethought, the Predators development system, and  our scouting team.

Rinne is one of the league’s best, most consistent goaltenders who can be relied more than most and seldom gives away an easy goal. He is the team’s anchor and a great complement to our team’s defense first approach. His contract expires at 36, which is friendly since, barring any injuries, Rinne will likely still be performing very well at that age – as long he doesn’t need to play 72 games a season again.

Rinne Before the Draft

Tomas Vokoun became a record setting goalie with the Nashville Predators. He brought the team to their first playoff berth and played phenomenal throughout. Unfortunately due to health and age his play deteriorated, and due to fiscal constraints in management were forced to leave him unsigned.

Few thought we would acquire a goaltender capable of chasing those records so soon… and out of such obscurity.

But then there was Pekka Rinne – a 6 ft 5 giant, drafted by the Predators in 2004 in the 8th round when he was playing for a team named Karpat in the SM-Liiga … as a backup to Niklas Backstrom (Undrafted).

The 2004 NHL Draft featured a good number of goalies taken in the first two rounds – especially compared to today’s numbers. Al Montoya went 6th, Devan Dubnyk 14th, Marek Schwarz 17th and Cory Schneider 26th – Schneider being arguably the most successful.

Nashville didn’t bite on a goalie until the 5th round where they picked up Kyle Moir, who never made it out of the ECHL. They also drafted Pekka Rinne with the last pick of the 8th round. (As a side note, this was the year Nashville selected Radulov 15th overall).  

Rinne would spend the next season in Karpat, playing fewer games than the season before but nearly halfing his GAA (2.99 to 1.64) and getting 3 more wins in 4 less games.  With Rinne and Backstrom in net, Karpat would win their second consecutive league title in 2005.

That would be the last Rinne saw of the SM-liiga, as he was signed by the Preds in August of 2005 and brought to North America for the 2005-2006 AHL season.

The Superb AHL year

Rinne was supposed to be a backup to Brian Finley but would play in 51 regular season games (which tied him for fourth) and 14 playoff games in his first AHL season with Milwaukee during the 2005-2006 campaign. He spent two stretches of the season in Nashville: the first from Dec  14th – 18th and the second was during Vokoun’s  injury from April 3rd to May 1st. He started in one game that year and came on in relief during a second. He earned his first NHL win in his first NHL start against Chicago on December 19th 2005. The Preds were eliminated from playoffs in the first round, which allowed Rinne to return to Milwaukee for the AHL playoffs, where the Admirals made it to the Calder Cup finals before losing to the Hershey Bears in 6 games. Rinne missed the first round series, but helped the Preds sweep the next two rounds before falling in the finals.

For the 2006-2007 season, RInne was sidelined with a shoulder injury for half the year. He returned to action on January 19th after recovering from surgery. He would play 29 games and earn a .920 save % which tied him for 6th in the league.

According to several sources in 2006, and a follow-up interview by Preds writer Joshua Cooper in 2011, Rinne was assaulted while on a friend's bachelor party in Finland. The assault was at the hands of a “…pizzeria owner. The assailant fired pepper spray into Rinne’s eyes and tackled him." It takes some guts to do that to a 6’5 man at a bar.

2007 – 2008 was as much of a break out year as Rinne would have. The organization planned to have Rinne as a full time NHL back up for the season, but after a very impressive performance in training camp by the recently signed Dan Ellis the organization re-thought their plans. Ellis’ contract made it difficult to move him between the AHL and NHL, so the Predators decided to keep him on the NHL roster and move Rinne as needed.

Rinne would eventually play in his third NHL game that season, relieving Chris Mason from a 3-1 deficit. Rinne allowed no goals on 8 shots to finish up the game, and the final score was 3-1 Chicago.

The limited NHL action allowed Rinne to accomplish some very special AHL achievements. He lead the league in wins, appearances and minutes. His win total tied a franchise record. Despite posting a .923 save percentage and having one shutout, Milwaukee was ousted in 6 gamesin the first round to the Western Champions the Chicago Wolves.

NHL Accolades

It would be the last Rinne saw of the AHL, as the 2008-2009 season marked Rinne’s rookie NHL season. The goalie would join the NHL roster to back-up Dan Ellis after the departure of Chris Mason. Rinne would finish the season with achievements held by few other goalies. He joined only 8 other goalies in winning 29 games in their rookie season, first rookie goalie to record 3 shutouts in a month since Martin Biron in 2000, won Rookie of the Month in February for is 9-2-1 record where he held a .944 sv% and 1.72 GAA and earned the Franchise record for shutouts with 7 (Previous was Ellis with 6). Rinne finished fourth for the Calder Trophy Nominations, behind Steve Mason, Bobby Ryan and Kris Versteeg. Despite Rinne’s best efforts, the Preds, still recovering from the 2007 firesale, would finish 3 points out of the playoffs.

In his following season he would again reach the 7 shutouts mark which placed him third in the league. He was named an NHL star of the week on three occasions and was again amongst the NHL goaltending elite. But this year an impressive season would be followed up by a playoff run. The Predators and Rinne would face the Chicago Blackhawks in a Western conference 2 vs 7 matchup. In the first game Rinne would turn away 25 or 26 shots and earn the second star in a 4-1 (with 2 empty net goals). It was the first ever road playoff win for the Predators.

The Predators would unfortunately lose a heartbreaking game 5 and go on to lose the series in 6 games, but for Rinne It was a good series, allowing only 4 goals in the first three games.

The 2010-11 season started off with a lower-body injury to Rinne that put him day to day. He would also injure his groin mid-season, but despite the setbacks he had his best season yet with the team. Getting 64 starts he had 33 wins a 2.12 GAA and a .930 SV% which was enough to get his first Vezina Trophy nomination and finish 4th in Hart Trophy voting.

Rinne would also be an important factor in getting the Predators out of the first round for the first time in Franchise History. Rinne was impressive in the six game series against Anaheim, but was even more dominant in the following series where he went toe to toe with Roberto Luongo in one of the most spectacular goalie battles of that playoffs.

Rinne got his second Vezina nomination in 2012 after playing in 72 games out of an 82 game season. Although very impressive, his stats were slightly worse than the previous year and he would finish third in voting. Similar to his 2008 AHL season, Rinne would lead the league in wins, shots faced and saves. He had an 11 game win streak from January 7th to February 4th.

He would again be dominant in the playoffs and was a massive factor in the first round Detroit series, where the Wings just could not figure him out. He exited the series with a .944 sv%.

On November 29th 2011 Rinne signed a statement making NHL contract at 7 million a year for 7 years. It was at the time the most expensive contract the Predators had ever signed (later falling second to Weber). The contract was a symbolic move by the Predators organization who were finally declaring their willingness to spend in order to build a successful hockey team.

Rinne would start the 2012 season in Minsk Russia where he noticed a significant difference in the defending. Minsk had one of the worst defensive units in the league and it was galaxies inferior to Weber/Suter, Josi/Gill. Rinne’s number struggled in the KHL and although he did make some highlight saves he was not on his top form.

On his return Rinne played well, but was not helped by a Predators team decimated by injuries.   

Rinne continues to develop with the Nashville Predators and Mitch Korn provides great mental support to the goaltender who faces a lot of rubber and plays behind a unit that often struggles to score. It takes a mental toll knowing that just allowing one goal may be enough to bury your team in any given game. 

Pekka is one of the most appreciated players on the Predators team. Absolutely a fan favorite, a tribute to our success, and a great personality. Luckily we get to enjoy watching his play for years to come.