And so an early crossroads for the Nashville Predators.
Starting netminder and former Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne will be lost to the team for at least four weeks as doctors try to eliminate an infection in his surgically repaired hip joint. But the Predators announced they will eschew signing one of the many experienced goaltenders currently looking for work and will turn the duties over to a pair of inexperienced prospects in Carter Hutton and Magnus Hellberg.
"We’re going to go this way right now," GM David Poile told ESPN.com on Thursday afternoon. "Until I know more, there’s no sense in speculating about ‘What if this happens, what if that happens?'"
Rinne played well in the Predators’ 2-0 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday, stopping 27 of 28 shots, and had gone 3-1-1 after a rocky start. But on the flight home from Minnesota, Rinne began to feel soreness in his hip and developed a fever. When he showed up for practice Wednesday, he had more soreness and had developed a bit of a limp, Poile said.
The netminder was sent to the doctor who had performed offseason surgery on Rinne’s troublesome hip, and an MRI was performed. Infection was discovered in the hip joint, prompting the decision to have Rinne undergo a hip scope to flush and clean the area. The procedure was performed Thursday morning and will mean Rinne will be out of action for at least four weeks.
Why this happened five months after surgery was performed remains a mystery at this point, Poile said. There were no troubling signs leading up to this, the GM added.
Not surprisingly, the news of Rinne’s injury prompted a slew of calls from agents representing the many goaltenders looking for NHL work. The names of those hoping to catch on with an NHL club are familiar and include former Vezina Trophy nominee Ilya Bryzgalov, who was working out in Las Vegas with the ECHL Wranglers before returning to New Jersey, and veteran Jose Theodore.
But Poile said the Predators have high hopes for Hutton, who earned the backup job behind Rinne to start the season, and Hellberg, who was called up from the American Hockey League on Thursday, and it’s time to see if they’re up to the task.
Hutton won his only start of the season, allowing one goal against the Winnipeg Jets, whom he will face Thursday night in Nashville. The 27-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, who was signed as a free agent last summer, has stopped 59 of 61 shots thus far. In his only other NHL experience, he took a loss for Chicago last season.
Hellberg was the 38th overall pick by the Predators in 2011 and had a strong year for the team’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee last season. The 6-foot-6 native of Sweden was 1-2 with a 2.23 GAA and .913 save percentage this season.
"We’ve been in this situation before," Poile said, noting that they learned about young goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason when they were forced into action by injuries to more proven netminders.