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Predators ink Rinne to seven-year extension

by John Manasso

Pekka Rinne said he felt no need to test the free-agent market.

He also said that whatever his teammates Ryan Suter and Shea Weber choose to do this summer has no bearing on what he does.

And so the 29-year-old Rinne, the runner-up in the Vezina Trophy balloting in 2010-11, elected to re-sign with the Nashville Predators in the form of a seven-year contract worth $49 million, the largest deal awarded by the franchise since it entered the NHL in 1998.

The 6-foot-5 Finn said that his first choice was to be in Nashville, where he helped to backstop the Predators to their first playoff round victory last spring, and that he wanted to get his deal done "the sooner the better."

Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 5-4-2
GAA: 2.50 | SVP: 0.922
"Oh, I think you can only make choices on your own and, obviously, I have the luxury to play with those guys two years now and I want to keep playing with elite players," said Rinne, celebrating his birthday Thursday. "I know we're doing our best to get them signed here; but this is my decision. I was the first one to sign and hopefully those two guys come next."

Both Suter and Weber can become free agents July 1.

Last season Rinne finished second in the League in save percentage at .930, third in goals-against average (2.12) and tied for sixth in shutouts with six. He also placed fourth in the Hart Trophy voting.

Rinne, Suter and Weber are unquestionably the three players who form Nashville's core.

Nashville's formula essentially is to have Rinne on the ice for the entire game and one of the League's top defense pairs on the ice for almost half of it in the form of Suter and Weber to give them he best chance to win -- no matter the opponent.

Suter was the team's leader in time-on-ice and plus/minus last season and Weber was a 2011 Norris Trophy finalist who scored 16 goals last season.

Although Suter and Weber were selected in the same draft class, Suter is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season since his first NHL season was 2005-06 while Weber played only 28 games that season, delaying his free agency by a year. Weber will be a restricted free agent, but since the Predators opted to go with team-elected arbitration this past summer to get him under contract, they cannot do so again in July 2012, making Weber vulnerable to an offer sheet by another team.

Many of the questions in Rinne's conference call with reporters Thursday centered around what Suter and Weber might choose to do. Predators general manager David Poile said when he told both players this morning prior to their game on Thursday in Phoenix that they were "ecstatic for Pekka."

Poile said he has had a "consistent rapport" with the agents for Suter and Weber, who cannot officially re-sign until Jan. 1, according to League rules. Poile said that as long as the Predators have those three players, he believes they have a window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. He said Rinne's signing would not be "anything other than a positive" for re-signing Weber and Suter.

"I think we have to treat these all individually," Poile said of the contracts. "I don't think everybody's going to be all the same. Whatever information I have, I'm going to keep it to myself. They all have different motives, different goals."

The signing was significant enough that

"I hope it makes the statement how committed we are to winning and not to just being a respectable franchise but over the long term to being an elite franchise that competes for the Cup every year."
-- Predators Chairman Thomas Cigarran

participated. Cigarran was asked what he thought the contract said about the Predators' larger commitment to win.

"I hope it makes the statement how committed we are to winning and not to just being a respectable franchise but over the long term to being an elite franchise that competes for the Cup every year," he said.

He praised the organization's hockey operations department for its ability to develop talent and identified Weber, Suter and Rinne as players the organization wants to keep for the long term.

"We have every intent of signing both Shea and Ryan and we're going to do everything we can to make that happen," Cigarran said.

Entering Thursday's match at Phoenix, Nashville is 5-4-2 for 11 points, tied for ninth in the Western Conference and one point out of a playoff spot. Rinne has been one of the stabilizing factors, as he helped to pull the team out of a recent tailspin with two shutouts in a span of four games.

The Predators have the League's youngest team and Poile has asked for patience, saying he thinks the Preds will be better in the second half and that they will be better next season than in this one.

For Rinne, the contract has brought him a long ways from his days in Finland, when he served as back-up to Nicklas Backstrom, now with the Minnesota Wild. Poile said Rinne played so rarely for Karpat Oulu that the team's scouts identified Rinne in part by watching him during warm-ups and so used the No. 258 selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft on him.

Rinne said he knew coming to North America would get him more playing time and he spent three seasons in the AHL before landing a spot in Nashville full time -- what Poile called the perfect development plan.

"Back then, there's no question, I always dreamed about playing in the NHL," Rinne said of his time in Finland. "To me, that was a long journey and it's been a long journey. Actually, I think that was a good time for me. I learned a lot form Nick. He was and he is one of the better goalies. He's a great guy.

"Yeah, for sure, I wanted to play more. When I had a chance to come over here, it was an easy decision, even though I didn't know what to expect, I knew I had a good chance to play more games and get better."

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