Rinne, the Finnish goalie who played his entire 16-year NHL career with the Nashville Predators, retired on Tuesday at the age of 38. He retires on his own terms, physically healthy but ready for a change in life and to face new challenges.
“For 17 years I’ve been on incredible, life-changing journey with the Nashville Predators that has taken me to more places than I could ever have imagined,” Rinne began in a video announcement. “But today is the end. I’m retiring from the game of hockey. This decision wasn’t easy. I’ve been spending the summer in Nashville with my fiancé, Erica, and our seven-month-old son. My body still feels like it could compete, but my decision was about a lot more than that.”
In looking back, Rinne had an amazing career in the NHL, but when he was a teenager nothing was guaranteed. He was drafted only 258th overall by Nashville in 2004, the lowest-drafted goalie to go on to play in the NHL from that year’s class. He made his NHL debut on December 15, 2005, a 5-3 home win over Chicago in which he stopped 35 of 38 shots. His first three years of pro, however, passed mostly with Milwaukee in the AHL. It wasn’t until 2008 that Rinne made the Preds full-time and could call himself an NHL puckstopper.
Over the course of the next four years he increased his wins, going from 29 to 32, 33, and finally a career-high 43 in 2011-12. Between 2014 and 2019, he won 30 games every season, culminating in 2017-18, when he had a 42-13-4 record and was named winner of the Vezina Trophy.
“I have so many wonderful memories from my career, but going to the Stanley Cup finals in 2017 is something I’ll never forget,” Rinne added. “We weren’t able to raise the Cup, but we turned Nashville into a hockey town, and I know this team will get back there.”
In all, Rinne played in 683 regular-season games, and his 369 wins is tops among Finnish-born goalies. He also had a 45-44 record in 89 playoff games.
On January 9, 2020, Rinne shot his way into the NHL record books when he scored a goal, only the 12th goalie ever to fire the puck into the opponent’s net.
Although injuries and timing never permitted him to wear blue-and-white at an Olympics, Rinne dazzled at the 2014 Worlds after missing Sochi due to a hip injury. In Minsk, the tournament all-star carried a relatively anonymous Finnish roster, coached by Erkka Westerlund and captained by Olli Jokinen, with his 1.88 GAA and 92.8 save percentage. Only a 5-2 final loss to Russia – headlined by Alexander Ovechkin, Yevgeni Malkin, and Sergei Bobrovsky – denied Rinne a golden celebration.
The towering Finn also established a modern-day shutout streak record of 237:05 at the 2015 Worlds in the Czech Republic, where he was named Best Goalie. Even though Finland finished fifth and sixth at Rinne’s other two Worlds in 2009 and 2010 respectively, he never posted a GAA higher than 1.93 or a save percentage lower than 92.6 (both in 2009) at any of his Worlds. He also suited up at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
"For sure everything went like in the movies,” he reflected. “Now, looking back, it was such a special ending to my career. You could feel that right away after the game. It was such a special game. I tried to keep that game separate from my decision, if that makes any sense, because it was also emotional. But now knowing that was my last game, what a way to end. I'm very thankful for my teammates for being there, beating a good team and for myself, selfishly, having a shutout. It does feel good."
Rinne’s achievements on ice were fantastic, but he also made an impact off ice in Nashville with his charitable efforts, notably a local hospital.
He leaves the game healthy and happy, and he forged a great career out of determination and perseverance. Nashville was lucky to have him for his entire career, and the game will be a little less special without him.
"It is impossible to properly express just how much Pekka means to the Predators organization and our entire community," Predators president and CEO Sean Henry added. "His incredible career and milestones achieved are eclipsed only by his generous spirit and contagious passion for others. Pekka defines our franchise and truly embodies the spirit of “Smashville.” Both are better because of him."
Rinne, who mentored 2014 Finnish World Junior gold medalist Juuse Saros as his Predators successor, leaves the NHL on a high note.
In Rinne’s final game at Bridgestone Arena, he registered a 5-0 shutout with 30 saves against the Caroline Hurricanes on 10 May. The Nashville fans gave him a standing ovation. He also received the 2021 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his on-ice and off-ice leadership and community work.
What’s next for Pekka Rinne? That remains to be seen, but the phrase “Hall of Fame” will surely be bandied about in the months to come.