After defeating Anaheim in Game 6 of the Western Finals last night, the Nashville Predators are headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in their 19 year existence. And the reason why is the man between the pipes.
Pekka Rinne’s play throughout the 2017 postseason has been unbelievable to put it lightly. The 34-year-old Finn has been in net for all 12 of the Predators’ wins and has posted a 1.70 GAA alongside a .941 Sv% and two shutouts, all of which lead playoff teams.
Coming into the playoffs as the West’s second Wild Card team, not many people (myself included) were giving Nashville much of a chance, especially against powerhouse Chicago in the opening round. However, no one at all fathomed what happened next.
The upstart Preds swept the Blackhawks, including back-to-back shutouts in Games 1 and 2. Rinne silenced the usually-potent Chicago offense and limited the team to just three goals in the entire series. It was a masterful performance by the netminder, one that captivated the League.
The Predators did not have as easy a time with the Blues and Ducks, but knocked off both in six games to punch the franchise’s first ticket to the Cup. Opposing them will be either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Ottawa Senators. After the Sens’ embarrassing performance in Game 5 on Sunday, Ottawa’s Magic 8-Ball reads “don’t count on it”. Barring a miracle, the Penguins will repeat as Eastern Conference Champions tonight after Game 6.
However, regardless of the eventual winner of the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy for postseason MVP should be awarded to Rinne, for two reasons. The first is the obvious one, Rinne is why Nashville has made it this far; without his heroics, the Predators may have not even gotten past Chicago. The team has received a well-rounded assault from its entire lineup led by Filip Forsberg, but that offense would not have been enough if not for their goaltender. No player in the NHL currently is more valuable to his team than Rinne is to the Predators.
The second reason is the more poignant one, and it will cause problems with anyone who loves the NHL’s golden geese Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; Rinne has been the best player on any team throughout the playoffs.
34 is about the age where netminders begin to decline, but Rinne has saved the best performance of his career for when it matters most; allowing just 29 goals in 16 games. His goals against statistic proves that the four games Nashville has lost haven’t been his fault.
The Conn Smythe going to a member of the losing team is a rarity and has only happened five times in Finals history. The most recent was in 2003 when Jean-Sebastian Giguere was honored for helping Anaheim pull off a similar miracle run. That, coupled with the fact that Crosby was given the award last year when Matt Murray was overwhelmingly deserving, makes it seem like Rinne’s odds are slim unless Nashville wins. And they very well could be, we all know how political the NHL is and how much it loves to sell its top stars. Crosby or Malkin could easily be given the award simply because of their names.
But, in my opinion at least, there hasn’t been a more obvious choice for the award in years. Rinne’s performance this postseason will become legendary and unless Nashville is swept in the Finals and loses each game by blowout, the Conn Smythe Trophy should be locked up. Regardless of who hoists the Cup when it’s all said and done, Pekka Rinne should be the one who is called postseason MVP.
Solutions For The 6 NHL Teams That Need Captains
Entering the 2017-18 NHL season, six teams do not have a player wearing a “C” on his jersey, Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina, Nashville, Toronto and (for obvious reasons) Las Vegas. Though captaincy in the NHL really is just a formality on paper, every team needs a player in that role to be a leader and hold teammates accountable.
Though potentially none of these could happen, each of the six teams has a player who is the favorite and should be named captain.
Arizona Coyotes- Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D)
The essential Arizona Coyote, Shane Doan, retired yesterday after spending his entire career with them. The last active player who was on the original Winnipeg team, Doan had been the captain of the Desert Dogs since 2003 and was also the longest tenured captain in the League. Losing its franchise cornerstone is a big blow to Arizona, but they have a stalwart more than ready to step up. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the NHL’s top offensive defensemen and has been the Coyotes most potent threat in recent years, even if last season was underwhelming for him. No one else on the team is a viable candidate, but that doesn’t matter because Ekman-Larsson is the overwhelming favorite for the C. With Doan now retired, Arizona is his team.
Buffalo Sabres- Jack Eichel (C)
There’s been a lot of contention regarding Eichel’s candidacy to be Buffalo’s captain. He obviously has the talent and the poise, but some fear that he’s too young still, though Edmonton made Connor McDavid its captain this season and he scored 100 points. Buffalo effectively released former captain Brian Gionta this offseason and new Head Coach Phil Housley has not yet named a replacement. Eichel is the face and future of the Sabres and is ready for the responsibility after maturing a great deal during the Sabres’ frustrating past season. If not in Housley’s eyes, Ryan O’Reilly is also an easy choice.
Carolina Hurricanes- Justin Faulk (D)
The ‘Canes have not had a captain since longtime star Eric Staal was traded to the Rangers at the 2016 Deadline and instead went with four alternates last season, Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk. Of the four, Faulk is easily the best choice. A rising star in the NHL and very capable two-way defender, Faulk has all the tools to lead Carolina out of the gutter. Still young at only 25, the Hurricanes aren’t going to let their golden goose go anywhere any time soon. Giving him the C is a no-brainer.
Nashville Predators- PK Subban (D)
Like Arizona, Nashville has a vacancy here because Mike Fisher retired after leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup Final. Not a bad way to go out, especially when you get to go home to Carrie Underwood. Besides Fish’s excellence, the team’s head-turning run was propelled by the ever-dynamic PK Subban. Say what you want about him, but he’s easily one of the most electric players in the League and would make a great captain. His leadership helped fill a huge void after the team shocked the world with the trade of its former captain, Shea Weber. The Predators have the tools to dominate again, and Subban deserves the captaincy honor. Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi could also do the job.
Toronto Maple Leafs- Tyler Bozak (C)
“What stuff are you smokin’, idiot??” I’m sure you’re thinking. Yeah I know this one is a bit out of left field, but it makes sense when you think of it (plus I couldn’t be totally predictable with the list). Auston Matthews is fresh off a great rookie season and the Calder Trophy, yes. But there’s still no rush to put the C on the youngster. I know this may also seem hypocritical since I just said that Buffalo should give theirs to Eichel, but it’s just not the same case. Tyler Bozak has been on the Leafs since 2009 and is a seasoned veteran, fresh off a career year. Giving him the captaincy is a smarter move than Matthews because, unlike Eichel, Matthews hasn’t proven he can handle the pressure yet. Bozak as captain will allow the Leafs’ core of young stars that also includes Morgan Reilly, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander to continue to mature. The same could be said for new acquisition Patrick Marleau, but Bozak has been there the longest and deserves it most.
Vegas Golden Knights- Deryk Engelland
The Vegas Golden Knights have not yet named a captain for their inaugural season. Marc Methot seemed to be the easy choice but he was traded to Dallas. Now the Toronto Sun suggested this and it confused me at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. While Deryk Engelland is relatively unknown in the NHL and an modest, stay-at-home defenseman, he would be a perfect fit for Golden Knights’ captain. Engelland played two years in the ECHL for the Las Vegas Wranglers and Vegas hockey fans know who he is. He’s the closest thing to a homemade player that the team has and fans would instantly recognize him as the team’s captain. There are other choices like Jason Garrison and James Neal, but Engelland is a familiar face to Las Vegas and fans would love him as the leader.
Agree/disagree? As always, be sure to take to Twitter to let me know how brilliant or stupid I am.
Predators Captain Mike Fisher Announces Retirement
The Nashville Predators and their fans are saying goodbye today as 37-year-old forward Mike Fisher has announced his retirement from the NHL.
Fisher, 37, was unable to find a new home on the free agency market after posting 42 points in 72 games last season for Nashville in the final year of his two-year, $8.8 million deal.
“This job I’ve been able to have for a majority of my life is so much fun” Fisher said in a special post on the Tennessean.
“To help create that entertainment and to see the joy we can bring to people is such a unique and exciting opportunity. I’ll miss my teammates, my coaches and the game itself.
This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I know I’ve made the right one. I’ve decided to retire from the NHL.”
Fisher, the sixth captain in franchise history, finishes with 585 points in 1,088 career NHL games across 17 seasons in the league.
“Knowing we were so close to winning it all in June only makes it more difficult to leave it behind, but I do so with hope. Endings are always tough, but I believe when something ends, there are new beginnings, new opportunities and new things to be excited for, too.
I believe that this team, that this city, is going to win a championship, and I’m going to be the biggest fan. No one will be happier than I will be to see it happen, because, these fans, they deserve it.”
Fisher, who was the 44th-overall pick in 1998 draft, played 10 seasons with the Ottawa Sentors before being traded to the Predators in 2011.
Fisher became the team captain in 2016 after Nashville Shea Weber was traded to Montreal last offseason.
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