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What the Rinne contract means for Nashville

Pekka Rinne signed a seven-year, $49-million extension with Nashville this week. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Pekka Rinne signed a seven-year, $49-million extension with Nashville this week. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Nashville Predators GM David Poile didn’t wake up Thursday morning and morph into Glen Sather before signing Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million contract, but there’s little doubt Poile stepped way out of his comfort zone on this one.

Imagine that, the Predators getting raked over the coals by critics for overpaying a guy.

That is, of course, if you are of the opinion the Predators gave Rinne too much money and too long a term when they locked him up. The reality is the only difference between the Rinne contract and those signed by the other elite goalies in the NHL is the fact Poile didn’t try to legally circumvent the salary cap by front-loading it with bigger dollars in exchange for chump change at the end of a contract Rinne would probably never honor.

After all, if you’re Paul Holmgren right now, would you rather have Rinne’s contract or be faced with the prospect of Ilya Bryzgalov’s $5.7 million cap hit for the next nine years? And judging by the way Roberto Luongo has played lately, if you’re Mike Gillis, would you rather have Rinne at seven-times-seven or Luongo for another 11 years with a cap hit of $5.3 million?

It is undeniable that Rinne has established himself among the best goaltenders in the game. He finished second in Vezina Trophy voting last season, was a second-team all-star and was fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy. Some teams have approached their goaltending with the notion they don’t want to devote a lot of term or cap space to the position and that’s all well and good. But you could easily argue a team as inconsistent offensively as the Predators better have someone at the other end to keep them close in low-scoring games. Rinne does that, but that comfort comes with a cost. In fact, you could make the argument Rinne is more important to the franchise’s fortunes than either Ryan Suter, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, or Shea Weber, who will be unrestricted after next season.

Which brings us to what all of this means for the Predators’ efforts to sign Suter and Weber. Poile has gone on the record as saying he hopes and expects to sign all three to long-term deals, but you would have thought they would have had to take a hometown discount to achieve that goal. With Rinne signing for $7 million a year, that notion goes directly to the scrap heap. Suter will almost certainly want at least $7 million and Weber is currently making $7.5 million as a pending restricted free agent, so you do the math.

Will the Predators ultimately become a team that spends to the upper limit of the salary cap? Regardless of what Poile says, that one is right up there with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. If signing these three players were simply about the cap, the thinking in this corner is all three of them would have been signed to long-term deals long before now. It’s about budget in Nashville, not the salary cap.

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Poile has said the window of opportunity for this team to win is in the next couple of years. So if he signs Suter to a long-term deal and Weber takes his qualifying offer at $7.5 million to play out his contract next season, Poile will have all three of them for this year and next and perhaps he hopes everything falls into place and the Predators take a serious run at the Stanley Cup in the next two years.

Or perhaps he has come to grips with the fact he’ll be able to sign Rinne and only one of either Suter or Weber. If that’s the case, he’d be well-advised to make his best deal for Weber as soon as he can and get a boatload of players and prospects in return that will keep the Predators competitive for the next decade.

Or, perhaps, Poile is banking on another rollback in player salaries when the league negotiates the collective bargaining agreement with the players. Let’s assume he can get Suter done on a long-term deal at $7 million a year as well in the next little while. The negotiations last time around included a 24 percent rollback on salaries across the board. So let’s say it’s 20 percent this time. Those two contracts instantly get scaled back and would be worth $5.6 million a year on the long term - that will look mighty fine for the Predators if Rinne becomes as dominant as, say, Dominik Hasek was for the Buffalo Sabres.

That might leave enough for them to sign Weber as well in a reconfigured economic system. It might not.

One thing is certain. There are a lot of moving parts in this scenario that have yet to be played out. But Poile’s decision to get his goaltender locked up long-term might have been the best one, because regardless of how their roster looks two years from now, you can accomplish an awful lot with one of the best goaltenders in the league.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column

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