Things couldn’t be going much better for the Nashville Predators right now.
With just one regulation loss in the team’s last 14 games going into Thursday night’s tilt against Toronto, the Predators continue to separate themselves from the rest of the Western Conference. Last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up, the franchise has proven its recent postseason success was no fluke and, with sights set on the Presidents’ Trophy, there are plenty of players responsible for the team’s winning ways. But no player might be more important to Nashville’s success than goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Rinne, 35, has spent almost a dozen seasons with the Predators and his time in Nashville has certainly had ups and downs, the lowest of which was rumors of his departure from the team just a few seasons ago. Since then, the Finland native has continued to impress and he’s currently in the midst for one of the all-time greatest seasons of any goaltender in National Hockey League history. Now, with just 10 games remaining in the regular season, could Rinne win the Hart Trophy, awarded to the player who is deemed most valuable to his respective team? The answer, we believe, is unequivocally yes.
Rinne’s name would go alongside an elite group if he could bring home the hardware, joining just eight other goaltenders to ever accomplish the feat, the most recent of which was the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, who was crowned with the most valuable player award after the end of the 2014-15 campaign. Other goaltenders to win the Hart Trophy include Buffalo Sabres Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek – who did it back-to-back, in 1996-97 and 1997-98 – and Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Jacques Plante. And Rinne is well on his way to duplicating, if not surpassing, several stats of the previous winners.
Earlier this week, Rinne tallied his 40th win of the season in a 4-0 shutout, on the road against the Buffalo Sabres, becoming just the seventh goaltender in league history to win 40 games in three separate seasons, while accomplishing it in the second-fewest games. Three of the other names on that list are either in the Hall of Fame or soon will be – Plante, Terry Sawchuk, and Martin Brodeur. The win brought several other milestones for the longest-tenured Predator, marking his 13th consecutive win, tying a career high from six years ago, and his eighth shutout, eclipsing his past season-high of seven. Rinne currently has an impressive goals-against average of 2.21 to accompany his .931 save percentage. To put it into comparison, when Price won the Hart Trophy almost three years ago, he finished the season with 44 wins, a goals-against average of 1.96 and a .933 save percentage.
It’s not the first time Rinne has been in the running for the award, however. He’s finished in the top 10 of voting three times over the course of his career, the highest of which was fourth in 2010-2011.
There might also be another piece of hardware in Rinne’s future – the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s best goaltender. Rinne has finished second in Vezina Trophy voting twice in his career, back in 2010-2011 and 2014-2015, but given the numbers being put up by Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fluery, St. Louis Blues’ Carter Hutton and Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, there’s no guarantee Rinne will finally take home his position’s top award this season. However, barring any sort of falter in the homestretch of the regular season, he should win it, thanks to his all-around numbers. And that would only further prove his importance to the Predators, as the league’s most valuable player.
— x-Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) March 22, 2018
None of Rinne’s impressive statistics should be taken lightly either, given the fact that the Predators goaltender is playing in arguably the toughest division in the NHL, with the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild not only exceeding expectations this season, but also looking to make a deep postseason run. Returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight year will be no easy task but if Rinne continues his brilliant performance, no team will be able to stand in the Nashville’s way en route to the Stanley Cup.