“When we came back to Nashville a few years ago for David Poile’s event that they had when he set the record (for most wins as an NHL general manger), Pekka Rinne gave me a plaque with a puck on it,” Korn said. “It was for his 300th win, and it was a thank you plaque for being a part of his career. Who does that?
“I’ll tell you what kind of guy he is, he’s a better guy than he is a goalie, and he’s a great goalie.”
Rinne announced his retirement from the NHL on Tuesday, ending a 15-year career played entirely for the Predators, who selected him in the eighth round (No. 258) of the 2004 NHL Draft.
Rinne is the Predators leader in games played (683), starts (667), wins (369), shutouts (60), goals-against average (2.43) and saves (17,627). He also had a .917 save percentage and was voted a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL four times, winning it in 2018.
In NHL history, Rinne is 19th in shutouts and tied for 19th in wins with Tom Barrasso. Among Finland-born goalies, he is first in regular-season games, starts, wins and shutouts.
Rinne also helped the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 2017, when they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In its history, Nashville has won 54 playoff games, with Rinne the goalie for 45 of them.
“Playing street hockey with my cousins and my friends, from that little guy to here, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” the 38-year-old said. “I feel like you need so much luck on your side along the way, and I feel like I’ve had that. I’ve had great people around me, great family, so I’m very thankful for that. This organization gave me a chance and I was able to grow into a man in this city, start a family, a lot of bigger things than hockey. I’m forever thankful for that and grateful.
“Every single day I feel appreciated, I feel loved.”
For good reason.
To those who know Rinne best, who played with him or worked with him in Nashville, he will forever be remembered for his leadership, camaraderie with teammates, humanitarian efforts, and genuine likability.
Barry Trotz said Rinne’s No. 35 should be the first to be retired by the Predators.
“He’s the guy,” the former Nashville and current New York Islanders coach said. “He was the guy that gave Nashville a steady presence to be a consistent team. In a new market, he had the personality. If you’re in a non-hockey market, you need people to sell the game, you need personalities that appeal to people. He was humble. He was good. He got involved in the community, but he didn’t get involved for recognition, he got involved because he wanted to help people, and I think people saw that. It didn’t matter if he had a good game or a bad game, he treated every person the same, with a smile on his face, and it was genuine. He understood the new market, selling the game one person at a time, but I don’t think he was trying to sell, he was just being Pekka Rinne.”
Rinne, who won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy this season for his humanitarian contributions in Nashville, was this way as a teammate, first and foremost.
Carter Hutton recalled how Rinne took him in when he arrived in Nashville in 2013, an undrafted goalie who had played one NHL game to that point.
“I think the first month or two when I first got there, I don’t think I went for a dinner without him, where he didn’t take me and show me around the city,” Hutton said. “He must have paid for every bill I had, going for a bite to eat or whatever we did. He included me, which was important for me.”
Early that season, Rinne was out of the lineup because of an infection that stemmed from hip surgery he had the previous May. Hutton took his place and won 20 games, earning a two-year contract from the Predators, his first multiyear deal in the NHL.
“He really backed me, and I think one of the reasons the Preds signed me for two years is they had talked to Pekka before they even talked to my agent,” Hutton said. “He was OK playing with me.”
Chris Mason, the Predators’ No. 1 goalie from 2006-08, remembered watching Rinne early in his first training camp in 2005.
“He had this terrible mask, just looked like this long, lanky, kind of goofy guy when he got on the ice,” Mason said. “But I saw him move and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I looked at Mitch and I said, ‘This guy is going to be a superstar.’ I had never seen anything like it before. He was extremely unorthodox, but his compete level, his athleticism, his flexibility, his speed, his power, you could just see that there was something special about him.”
Korn and Trotz saw it in development camp a few months earlier.
“We had drafted a number of goalies within a two-year span and we basically just were watching each goalie and going, ‘Which one is the one?’ ” Trotz said. “After five minutes we just looked at each other and went, ‘That’s the guy.'”
Korn said, “Unbelievable power and quickness, compete off the charts, and he was the biggest of the group. It may not have all been put together yet in a nice little package, but he had everything. He was like a jigsaw puzzle, but the pieces were spread out on the table and it was Pekka’s job, and mine too, I guess, to put those pieces together.”
Rinne did just that and became the Predators No. 1 goalie in 2008-09, a spot he held for 11 seasons before splitting time last season with Juuse Saros, who took the reins as the starter midway through this season.
“He’s going to go down as the greatest Predators goaltender ever, and I don’t care who they draft,” Trotz said. “If you were asking for a perfect, ideal person to have start a franchise and build a foundation of fans, Pekka Rinne would be your guy because he gave them consistency, a presence, leadership. He gave them what I think Nashville is all about: a family environment with a lot of family values. Pekka was perfect for the Predators.”