Will Pekka Rinne return next season for Nashville Predators, or is this it?
In many ways, May 10, 2021, felt like goodbye for Pekka Rinne.
The most beloved player in franchise history shut out the Carolina Hurricanes in the regular season finale at Bridgestone Arena. The 38-year-old absorbed showers of cheers, took a final lap around the ice while the spotlight illuminated him and his teammates looked on in wonder.
The scene had to be seen to be believed. There's also a belief that Predators fans haven't seen the last of Rinne in a Nashville uniform.
Sure, things are different now. He's a backup goalie in the twilight of his career. He became a first-time father in December. He's also an unrestricted free agent with options.
Rinne didn't want to "close any doors" to other potential suitors — try imagining him in another uniform. He didn't discount the option of playing in his native Finland, saying it was "an option, for sure."
He also knows general manager David Poile's door is open, should Rinne decide he wants to suit up for a 16th season with the only NHL team he's ever known.
"I don't want to give my (retirement speech) here yet," Rinne said. "I want to give it some time, think about things with my family and what do I want to do. It's a thing I'm thinking about a lot, but again I'm not ready to make a decision."
Rinne also said he'd prefer to retire playing at the highest level.
He did offer a preview of that speech, though.
"I've been so fortunate,' he said. "I'm so proud that I've been in one organization all of my career. (Possibly retiring) is something I want to focus on later. (Nashville) has changed my life, my family's life. My son was born here. This is my home now. It means everything to me."
Rinne said he and Poile plan to "sit down" in a few weeks to discuss his future before talk starts turning to his past and all the franchise records he holds. How he'll most likely be the first player in franchise history to have his number retired.
Predators captain Roman Josi doesn't make such decisions, but was quick to show how he would play this hand.
"I think he's got a lot of years left," Josi said.
Josi said watching Rinne go from full-time goalie with no kids to full-time dad and part-time goalie was "definitely different."
He'd prefer Rinne stayed, all the same, and add to his 772 games played, 414 wins, 19,978 saves and to his legacy.
"When you come up like (Juuse Saros) as a young kid, there's nobody better to look up to than (Rinne)," Josi said. "This year, it wasn't easy ... he's still an amazing goalie. He's probably the most respected guy on our team. When he says something everybody listens."
Whether what he says in the coming months is something Predators fans want to hear remains to be seen. Rinne was a $5 million cap hit the last two seasons, and a $7 million hit the seven seasons before that.
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Yes, Poile has many decisions to ponder this offseason — the expansion draft, potential trades, potential extensions for Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm, whether to re-sign Mikael Granlund.
But signing Rinne hardly would be solely a sentimental move. He posted a .907 save percentage and a 2.84 goal-against average in a career-low 21 starts.
The Predators don't seem to have any NHL-ready goalies in their system.
Plus, Rinne, a Vezina Trophy winner, said he's not opposed to coming back to continue to be a backup, a role that really was cemented during the 2019-20 season. He said his coaches have been "super straight" with him regarding how he'd be utilized.
"Last season there were times when it was tough on me," he said. "For such a long time I played a lot of games ... you didn't have to worry about my playing time. It has been a big change. This season was a lot easier. It makes it easier that (Saros) is my partner. I'm genuinely so happy, so proud of the guy and the way he's playing."
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