He has a 37-9-4 record this season. He’s 18-1-1 in his last 20 games. He leads the entire National Hockey League (among goalies who have appeared in more than 35 games) with a .928 save percentage, he’s tied for the League lead in shutouts with seven and he has the least number of losses for any goalie who’s played more than 30 games (nine). In addition, earlier this season, he became the all-time shutout leader among Finnish-born goaltenders, got a lifetime membership to the 300 Win Club and is just two wins shy of becoming the winningest Finnish-born goalie of all-time when regular season and playoff wins are combined.
His name is Pekka Rinne.
The Nashville Predators netminder is having a whale of a season and, if the national media is paying attention at all, will be among the three men nominated for the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goaltender.
“Statistically, he’s superior to any goalie in almost every single category,” former goalie Chris Mason, a veteran of 317 NHL games, said. “Other than wins — and he’s played six less games, by the way — he’s winning every category. You can’t really speculate the results of those six games but you can look at winning percentage and his winning percentage is higher.”
That winning percentage is 74 percent, by the way.
While Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Boston’s Tuukka Rask will get some consideration, the honor is really a two-horse race with Rinne pitted against Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Both men are tied with seven shutouts on the year, both men are trying to lead their respective teams to the President’s Trophy and, quite possibly, both men could face each other in the Stanley Cup Final.
“All the talk I hear is that Vasilevskiy is the favorite,” Mason said. “I hear ‘Yeah Pekka’s having a great year but Vasilevskiy is the clear cut winner.’ But the numbers don’t add up. And I’m taking the emotion out of it. Yeah, I played with him and he’s my friend but I’m taking all that out of it and letting the numbers speak for themselves. There are a lot of underlying analytics that support him.”
Jared Clinton of the Hockey News explained all that recently so it doesn’t need to regurgitated here but, suffice it to say, the 2004 eighth round draft pick of the Predators is impressing even the usually stingy advanced stats crowd.
Rinne’s teammates can provide a unique perspective on why his fourth Vezina nomination should result in his first win.
“He just wins games,” defenseman Matt Irwin said. “Obviously what he does on the ice speaks for itself but he’s such a great teammate. When we might not be at our best, he masks it and make us look like we’re at our best.”
Austin Watson added other reasons.
“He’s been the backbone of this organization for so long and he seems to get continuously better,” the Preds forward said. “The milestones this year — 300 wins, 50 shutouts — and just the way he’s playing. He’s 18-1-1 in his last 20. If that doesn’t get you in the running, I don’t know what does.”
A strong finish could absolutely move Rinne ahead of Tampa’s netminder but Mason worries the media and the so-called “east coast bias” may influence the League’s general managers who vote for the award.
“I did some research and 22 of the last 23 Vezina-winning goaltenders have been from the Eastern Conference,” the Nashville TV analyst said. “I found that to be more than a coincidence. I know some guys don’t get influenced by the media but, when you hear [the Vasilevskiy] narrative over and over again, it starts to become part of your train of thought. I think there’s something to that.”
Most of the argument against Rinne is that he plays behind the best group of defenseman in the NHL. Mason says not so fast.
“If I’m just comparing Rinne to Vasilevskiy, look how Tampa’s scored 30 more goals than the Predators,” he said. “They have the top scorer in the League in Nikita Kucherov. They have Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. The Predators don’t have a single point-per-game guy. Tampa has the favorite for the Norris Trophy in Victor Hedman and a very capable defense as well and they play in a weaker division. I could go on and on.”
Rinne was nominated for the Vezina in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Perhaps 2018 will be the year he finally brings home some hardware.
That said, if he wins a certain bigger trophy on the ice in June, he won’t care what happens at some award show a few weeks later.