Sharks look to continue winning ways against Pekka Rinne and the Predators

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7:30 PST
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6-4-2, 14 points 7-4-0, 14 points
8th in Western Conference 6th in Western Conference
Television
CSN-CA (HD)
Radio
98.5 KFOX, Sjsharks.com
Antagonists
On The Forecheck
Preds On The Glass

After an inspired comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, the San Jose Sharks will look to get off to a better start in the first period tonight against a hard-working Predators team that has earned seven out of eight points in their last four games.

Pekka Rinne inked a 7 year $49 million dollar deal earlier this week, solidifying his role as Nashville's franchise goalie for years to come. The contract will make Rinne the goalie with the highest cap hit in the NHL next season, eclipsing the likes of Henrik Lundqvist ($6.87 MM), Cam Ward ($6.3 MM), and Ryan Miller ($6.25 MM). There's no doubt Rinne, who posted a .930 SV% last season and comes into tonight with a sterling .929, is one of the better netminders in the NHL-- Rinne is remarkably agile for a goaltender who comes in at 6'5, and has a penchant for making highlight reel stops every time he steps out on the ice. Coupled with a Vezina nomination last season, and his relative worth to a team that has a habit of playing in tight, low-scoring games, it's no surprise Nashville was looking to lock him up on a long-term deal.

Count me in with the group who feels that this could be a decision Nashville regrets in the coming years however. It has nothing to do with Rinne's skill set of course-- he is one of the most imposing goaltenders in the League at this stage of his career, and at the age of 29, should continue to provide average to above average results throughout his contract.

But with the difference between big-money starting goaltenders and the league average worth only a handful of wins per season, the downside to committing so many dollars to the goaltending position is that it puts a lot of capital into a notoriously mercurial position-- outside of Dominek Hasek in the mid to late 90's, there hasn't a goaltender who has been hands down the best at his position for season upon season (I suppose you can make the case for Vokoun in the post-lockout era, but that is more of a case of upper echelon consistency rather than dominance over his peers).

As Dirk Hoag of Predators blog On The Forecheck mentions, the question of whether Rinne can continue to be the pace car in the goaltending race will be of primary concern going forward:

For a bit of perspective, if you believe that Pekka has an enduring talent to stop shots that's about 1% better than league-average (say, a sustainable .925 save percentage guy as opposed a .915), that saves you about 20 goals against over the course of a season, which is worth about 7 points in the standings. For a single individual, that's worth paying a premium for, but again, the question is whether he can consistently deliver those results over the term of the contract.

>> On The Forecheck

The biggest factor in all of this is that committing that many dollars in net takes away your ability to improve in areas that tend to have a much larger impact on the game-- forwards, specifically centermen, and defenseman. Nashville has a long history of developing quality goaltenders (Vokoun, Mason, and Ellis in the past, Lindback in the now, a wealth of depth in their system), but hasn't managed to land that one forward up front which would spring them into the category of legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Up until this point they've had the blueline part of the equation solved; however, that could change after this offseason.

With Shea Weber due to hit restricted free agency next offseason after winning a one-year $7.5 MM arbitration award last summer, and partner Ryan Suter poised to be one of the hottest commodities on the UFA market as well, Nashville could be in a position where they heavily consider moving one at the deadline lest either walks away for nothing. It's a tough spot to be in for certain-- unless negotiations look bleak with Suter/Weber, or Nashville knows they can sign all three and still remain within their internal budget, secure your top pairing and rely on your goaltending depth in the system on your path to success. It's what I would have done, and I'm the best NHL '12 GM in the history of XBox. You can trust me.

The Predators have consistently been one of the lower payroll teams in the NHL while still managing to be extremely competitive year in year out. Operating on an internal budget in this economic climate is not an easy thing to do however, no matter how committed the organization is to winning. And the Predators, who have been one of the most well-run and best-coached teams in the League for years now, are extremely committed to winning-- David Poille is one of the best in the business at locating above average talent at bargain basement deals, and Barry Trotz manages to squeeze every last ounce of talent from his lineup every single night.

Unfortunately it all comes down to the checkbook now, and how many times management gives them the chance to use it.

Should be interesting to see how it all plays out. Here's to hoping they make it work.

Prediction: Sharks win 2-1. Goals by Couture and Havlat. Pekka Rinne makes 50 saves, wins the Vezina Trophy 8 years in a row, and goes down as the best goaltender of the decade.

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