Last season, the Nashville Predators went 51 games without star goaltender Pekka Rinne due to a second hip surgery to remove an E. Coli infection. Without Rinne, the goaltending duties lied in the hands of Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec. It was obvious Nashville missed their starter, but the rookies held their own, posting a 20-20-9 record during the 4 months.
Rinne, 31, would return on March 4 and slowly get back to his elite style of play. He possessed a 3-0-1 record in his final 4 starts and earned 2 shutouts in his last 7. At the end of the season, Rinne totaled a 10-10-3 record, 2.77 goals against average and .902 save percentage.
Despite the significant obstacles Nashville had to overcome throughout most of the year, they missed the playoffs by just 3 points.
When Rinne was healthy last season, the team posted a 17-11-3 record. If the 2-time Vezina Trophy finalist were healthy the entire year, who knows what Nashville could have done?
Rinne is the team’s backbone. Since acquiring the starting job in 2008-9, the 2004 8th round pick has totaled a 162-97-37 record, 2.39 GAA and .918 save %. His 6-foot-5, 206-lbs frame mixed with extreme athleticism makes it difficult for opponents to score seemingly easy goals.
There are two questions surrounding Rinne heading into the 2014-15 season: health and coaching. After two hip surgeries, questions arise about its strength. The last thing the Predators want to have happen is another injury dilemma with their starter, who has 5-years remaining, $35 million remaining on his contract.
This will be Rinne’s first season in Nashville without goalie coach Mitch Korn. Korn has been credited for developing Rinne into what he is today. Ben Vanderklok, who worked under Korn in Milwaukee, is a “natural fit” to fill the coaching role, according to general manager David Poile. However, Vanderklok has yet to prove himself at the NHL level.
Despite several off-season acquisitions, the Predators still lack explosive offensive capabilities. However, they have what every team in Central Division does not have — an elite goaltender. That is what will set them apart from their talented division and compete for a playoff spot.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.