by PuckStopsHere on 02/21/09 at 03:00 AM ET
I am picking Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets as the rookie of the year. There is another rookie goalie who has almost as good stats so far this season in Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. He deserves some Calder consideration as well. Rinne has played in eight fewer games than Mason and has slightly worse numbers (a .920 saves percentage and 2.31 GAA). These numbers are also very good. They are likely goods enough for a Calder nomination.
Rinne likely does not have the upside of Steve Mason. He is currently 26 years old, while Mason is only 20. Mason’s numbers have been compromised a bit by a bout with mononucleosis and yet they remain the better of the two.
Rinne is a bit of a surprise success story this year. In 2005/06 he left Finland for North America. He has spent most of his time playing in the AHL for the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville’s farm team). Last year was his AHL season where he had the most games played (65) and he posted a .908 saves percentage and a 2.47 GAA. Rinne has improved on those numbers while jumping to the NHL. That is a rare achievement. It is not common for a goalie to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL and improve his statistics simultaneously.
Nashville has had some luck finding unknown goalies who have career seasons when they give them an NHL shot. After Tomas Vokoun was traded from Nashville to Florida in 2007, the Predators have had a revolving door for their goaltenders. Vokoun’s trade was made to reduce payroll, but it was made possible by the play of Chris Mason. Mason had been a seldom used backup goalie who had over 250 AHL games to his credit. He had a career year with the Preds in 2006/07 putting up a .925 saves percentage and a 2.38 GAA. Those numbers were quite unlikely for a goalie of his pedigree. When he couldn’t repeat them the next season, Dan Ellis emerged. Ellis was a 27 year old with one game of NHL experience and over 150 AHL games. He came into the Preds lineup and posted a career year. He put up a .924 saves percentage and a 2.34 GAA. This year they have Rinne filling that part.
A lot of Nashville’s recent NHL success has come from having goaltenders of questionable pedigree putting up career seasons. That is most likely unsustainable. It is quite a run of luck that it has happened three times in a row. Without that luck, Nashville would not have qualified for the playoffs in the last two seasons.
Pekka Rinne likely has a better upside than Chris Mason or Dan Ellis, but he is unlikely to be an NHL star. He came to the NHL at a later age and was no superstar in the AHL. His NHL numbers this year have been a pleasant surprise. He is in the Calder Trophy race right now. That is unexpected. Will he be able to keep up this pace for a few years? If he doesn’t, what will Nashville do for a goaltender?
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