There won't be another Pekka Rinne, a 'man of the people' and true Nashville treasure | Estes
A blue ball cap, white T-shirt, jeans. The greatest Nashville Predators player ever showed up for his retirement press conference at Bridgestone Arena as if he’d just remembered it was today.
To anyone wondering why Pekka Rinne is so special, so deeply beloved: That’s why.
It’s not that Rinne declined to dress for the occasion. It’s that it didn’t even occur to him that this was such an occasion.
He answered questions Tuesday for about 30 minutes on camera. Then he just hung out off camera, shaking hands, taking pictures, greeting staffers and whoever else was there. Rinne couldn’t have known all these people. Sure treated them as if he did, though, that they were the only thing that mattered.
For them, for you, Rinne has all the time in the world. This day was no different. Would have been the same last Tuesday or the one before it.
That's just Pekka, same as ever.
“Off the ice, just an everyday man. Just a man of the people,” he said. “I feel like that's who I am.”
His “man of the people” line received chuckles in the room as soon as Rinne said it. The goaltender sheepishly realized he’d uttered the equivalent of a corny campaign slogan.
But hey, everyone understood what he meant.
Because it was true, and perfectly so. Ask anyone. While you never can truly know what someone is like, Rinne opened that door without seemingly knowing he was doing it. He never put on airs. He never acted as if he was famous, even as he undeniably became so. The ideal teammate and person, not just a great goaltender, but someone who'd keep you on the phone just to talk, just because he's enjoying the conversation.
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Here in Nashville, we’ve been fortunate enough to know this — and to know it long before Rinne’s inevitable exit Tuesday. Anyone who follows hockey was able to grasp the significance of his career and accomplishments. But here, this inevitable day was always going to be a lot more than just that.
Man of the people.
“Who's not going to miss Pekka?” general manager David Poile said.
Rinne might have been born in Finland, but the athlete who stepped down Tuesday was — and will continue to be — celebrated like no Predators player before him. Middle Tennessee is beside itself — for the first time, really — over a hockey player’s retirement.
The proverbial Mount Rushmore of sports figures in Nashville, debatable as it’ll continue to be, has not included the Predators until now.
Our relatively young NHL franchise — for all the jokes about its excessive love of banners — hasn’t retired a jersey number. Because no one has been close. That obviously changes now that Rinne and his No. 35 are stepping down after 15 years, 683 games, 369 wins, a Vezina Trophy, multiple All-Star appearances and a run to the Stanley Cup Final.
On hockey achievements alone, Rinne would be a Predators legend.
But everything in addition to that is what makes him a Nashville legend.
“He's the most important athlete in Nashville in the time period that he's been here,” Poile said. “The influence that he's had on the franchise. ... The selling of hockey as a sport in Nashville. Combine that with what he does in the community, there's nobody that matches that combination for what Pekka has meant and has done for the Nashville Predators and the city.”
Had Rinne wanted to keep playing for the Predators, he could have. Poile told him that he would re-sign him for next season.
Rinne thought hard about that, too. But he’d have turned 39 as Juuse Saros’ backup and with his newborn son at home. In the end, Rinne’s decision made sense. Poile wanted him to return, but even he admitted that, “It feels like the right time.”
“So often, unfortunately, it never ends in a good way with players,” Poile said. “‘They should have had one more year' or 'An organization didn't treat them correctly.' I guess what I'm saying is they didn't go out on their own terms, and Pekka is going out on his own terms.
“This is fantastic. He wrote the script, and he signed off.”
Rinne’s final headline as a playing member of the Predators — even after that wonderfully emotional shutout sendoff in the regular-season finale — was somehow even more fitting. He won the 2021 King Clancy Trophy, basically the NHL’s equivalent of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, as a result of his work in the community. That has gone back years.
Man of the people.
We knew that, but the longer Rinne stuck around that press conference room Tuesday — seriously, do we even know if he’s left yet?— the more it became obvious:
This was special.
And Nashville got the best of it, man. The stuff that most didn’t see, the parts in jeans and a white T-shirt.
So long and a tip of the ball cap, Pekka Rinne.
It has been a pleasure.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.