With the 7-year, $49 million contract extension they announced on Thursday, his 29th birthday, the Nashville Predators have signed Pekka Rinne to the largest deal in franchise history. They've also made him the highest-paid goaltender in the National Hockey League for players under contract in 2012-13, based on his $7 million annual cap hit.
"I wouldn't say that was the intention," Rinne's agent Jay Grossman told Yahoo! Sports moments after the deal was announced.
"Essentially, it came down to the fact there was a commitment that needed to be made to a potential free agent who finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting and fourth in the MVP voting, [one] that was going to be substantial. The Predators made the commitment."
From the Predators and President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile:
"Today's signing is further evidence of our ownership's commitment to keeping our core intact," Poile said. "This is the first step of a process designed to retain our key players and leaders. Pekka has grown with our franchise, just recently established our franchise record for career shutouts and is now recognized as one of the game's elite players. We're thrilled to know that he will be backstopping our franchise for several years to come."
Rinne, who is celebrating his 29th birthday today (11/3/82), finished second in voting for the 2011 Vezina Trophy and fourth in voting for the 2011 Hart Trophy, in addition to being named to the 2010-11 NHL Second All-Star Team. Rinne ranked second among NHL netminders in save percentage (.930), third in goals-against average (2.12) and tied for sixth in shutouts (6) in 2010-11, with the save percentage and goals-against average numbers setting franchise records.
For NHL goaltenders, only Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders (15 years), Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks (12 years) and Ilya Bryzgalov of the Philadelphia Flyers (9 years) have longer contracts than Rinne's. His $7 million cap hit next season places him above those of Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers ($6.875 million) and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes ($6.3 million) for the most lucrative in the League.
How did the sides arrive at this contract, and what does it mean for Shea Weber and Ryan Suter?
In February 2010, Rinne signed a 2-year, $4-million deal with the Predators. "We signed a shorter-term deal in the last go round, which was only two years after a really strong performance," said Grossman. "It gave him an opportunity to have his contract come back around. It allowed him to perform and achieve those things."
Grossman said the sides talked about a variety of contract options in this negotiation. "One being a shorter-term contract, one being a longer one, more along the lines of what Luongo and Bryzgalov had done," he said.
The reason they settled on seven years? The Collective Bargaining Agreement plays into it.
Rinne wanted something long-term, but "ruled out a lifetime kind of deal," according to Grossman. This contract makes him a free agent at 36.
"We were pleased with the term. If the CBA stays the same, coming up at 34 or particularly at 35 is not a real good opportunity if the rules change, and how certain things count against the cap. So signing as a 35 year old is not really that wonderful position to be in, so we ruled out five and six years," said Grossman.
Rinne was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in Summer 2012. So is defenseman Ryan Suter, while defenseman Shea Weber will be in his last season of restricted free agency.
The symbolic message of this contract — in its duration and its economics — to both defensemen is undeniable. Rinne is the first of the Nashville Holy Trinity to commit to the franchise; he hopes, as the team does, Weber and Suter follow him.
"I would say that Pekka's really close with those guys. He's happy. He's made a commitment to Nashville, and he's hopeful the best team is there," said Grossman "I'm sure that he hopes that they would stay. He had to make his decision based on a certain set of circumstances, and I'm certain that he's hopeful that those players come to similar conclusions."
Before today, Nashville had $40.5 million in projected cap space for next season, via Cap Geek.
This signing by Nashville is, frankly, equal parts audacious and preposterous.
A 7-year commitment to a goaltender in today's NHL can quickly go from a sunny long-term relationship to an albatross — ask the Islanders and Canucks (and, depending how things go this season, the Flyers).
It's especially odd for a team that's experienced a change in goal annually for a good portion of its NHL existence. (With the acknowledgement that Rinne has brought stability between the pipes.)
It could also be argued that Weber and Suter are more important to Nashville's future than Rinne. Does this contract bring them back, or does it constrain Poile from aggressively matching the numbers that will certainly be thrown at both players in the next year? Keep in mind Weber is building off a $7.5 million salary this season; how much higher can that go?
Will we look back on this Rinne contract in seven years as a cornerstone of a championship foundation, or another cautionary tale about committing long-term to the game's most unpredictable position?