It's better late than never for Pekka Rinne and the many fantasy owners who have been banking on him to return for more than four months.
With the Nashville Predators vying for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the timing couldn't have been more impeccable. For fantasy owners in head-to-head formats, Rinne could make or break your chase for a league championship.
That's a chance worth taking any day of the week.
Nashville, within striking distance of the West's second wild-card spot with 21 games remaining, will roll the dice with their No. 1 goalie after his lengthy absence due to a hip infection. The Finland native had offseason surgery and appeared to be back to his efficient ways (two goals allowed or fewer in six of his nine outings) before his condition sidelined him for 51 games and the entirety of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But the vast majority of his fantasy owners did not waver, as his ownership (86 percent) has remained strong in both keeper and non-keeper leagues. That shouldn't be a surprise, considering Rinne was taken third among goalies on average in Yahoo leagues (average pick: 13.7).
I slotted the 31-year-old a bit lower than my colleagues at eighth among goalies (44th overall) in my preseason rankings, but still expected him to keep the Predators in contention and put forth at least a strong save percentage. Unfortunately, no one could have anticipated the severity of his infection. His injury forced owners to keep him on IR for months and search for answers on the waiver wire.
But, at least for now, that's all in the rearview mirror. After a solid conditioning stint with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, Rinne will be manning the crease for the home team Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena against the East-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
Even with so much time missed this season, Rinne is one of 13 goalies League-wide with 10-plus shutouts dating back to 2011-12. Among goalies with 120-plus outings over that span, only four (Henrik Lundqvist, Mike Smith, Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick) have a better save percentage than Rinne (.918). In 2011-12, he finished with a League-high 73 appearances and 43 wins while facing the most shots (2,153 shots) in the NHL.
Without a doubt, his health remains a concern; he'll be relied upon to shoulder the load for a team that ranks 23rd League-wide in goals per game (2.44). But if there's any workhorse goalie who has proved in the past that he can put a team on his back, it's Rinne.
Be sure to activate him in all league formats so that his stats can count towards your weekly total Tuesday. Barring further injury, it's feasible to expect him to play in over 75 percent of Nashville's games down the stretch and aid a team that has allowed more goals per game than all but seven NHL teams. Even if the Predators don't make the playoffs, a smooth finish would mean Rinne would warrant keeper consideration in such leagues heading into next season.
If you somehow see Rinne on the waiver wire and are facing a goalie dilemma, don't hesitate to reach out to our insiders on social media.