The rich life of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne

Pekka Rinne has won the most games of any Finnish-born goaltender in NHL history. But he has his eyes on a bigger prize. John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne is thinking about Miikka Kiprusoff.

With career win No. 320 on Nov. 22, the Nashville Predators star passed the former Calgary Flames netminder for the most NHL victories by a goalie born in Finland. "He was a different kind of guy," Rinne recalled, which was true, from Kiprusoff's comportment to his athletic prowess, including those one-legged "scorpion saves."

Rinne said he has never made a "scorpion save" himself.

"At least not on purpose," he joked.

Kiprusoff, from Turku, had been the only Finnish goalie to win the Vezina Trophy (in 2005-06) until Tuukka Rask, a native of Savonlinna, won in 2014, and Rinne, a native of Kempele, captured his in June. There have been only 32 goalies from Finland who have appeared in the NHL. Many of them are well-known back home -- Rask, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi -- but few rise to the level of celebrity enjoyed by offensive stars such as Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and Patrik Laine, the nation's current hockey deity.

Goalies are most beloved when they're backstopping the Finnish national team. Rinne's legend grew when he helped the Finns to silver in the 2014 IIHF world championships in Belarus, while Kiprusoff helped lead the nation to Olympic bronze in 2010, before retiring from the NHL in 2013.

While they're the best Finnish-born goalies in NHL history, that's pretty much where many of the similarities end between Rinne and Kiprusoff.

"Kiprusoff was, and still is, a mystery man. He doesn't like publicity and he didn't like it when he was in the NHL," Pekka Jalonen, senior hockey writer for Iltalehti, told ESPN. "Kipper never goes to parties, so, actually, he is not a celebrity. There are not stories or articles about him. Kipper was an excellent goalie, like a wall. But there was a wall also between him and media and fans. He just wants to be left alone. He doesn't want any publicity."

Rinne, on the other hand, has been an ambassador for the Predators during his 13 years in Nashville. He's cordial. He's insightful. He'll talk to fans, media, peers, kids ... anyone, really.

"Every mother in Finland would let her daughter marry Rinne, no doubt about it," said Jalonen. "He is a gentleman. And a rich one too."

That he is: Rinne followed his seven-year, $49 million contract that expires after this season with a two-year, $10 million deal that could keep him in Nashville until 2021. And he's confident that by the end of his tenure in Nashville, there will be another difference between him and Kiprusoff: He'll be the one with a Stanley Cup ring.

"I have a lot of goals left," Rinne said. "I feel like I got a lot of game in me."

Pekka Rinne is thinking about icing. Just not the hockey kind.

On Nov. 3, the Predators gathered around a large cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to Rinne, who had turned 36 that day. He had signed his contract extension on his birthday, just like he had on Nov. 3, 2011, when the Predators made him the highest-paid goalie in hockey at the time.

On that day, he shut out the Phoenix Coyotes. On this day, seven years later, he shut out the Boston Bruins.

Happy birthday, Pekka Rinne.

"I should just sign one-year deals," he said, laughing.

There was some mystery about what Rinne's next contract would look like, or whether it would even be with the Predators. His previous two seasons were remarkable by any measure: Rinne followed a 31-win season and a .918 save percentage in 2016-17 with a 42-win season and a .927 save percentage in 2017-18, winning the Vezina. This season, he led the NHL in save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (1.77) through 25 games.

It's his postseasons, however, that earned him some skepticism. His .930 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average propelled the Predators to the 2017 Stanley Cup final, but he lost all three games he played in Pittsburgh, giving up 11 goals and getting pulled twice. In the 2018 playoffs, Rinne was rickety again: He gave up four or more goals in five of his 13 appearances and was pulled after 10 minutes in the Predators' Game 7 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in favor of his understudy, Juuse Saros.

"It was a long summer. Longer than we wanted," Rinne said.

Saros, a fellow Finn, is 23 years old and signed through 2021. He likely would be a starter for half of the NHL were he not considered by the Predators as the heir to Rinne. That he has loomed on the bench during this incredible run from Rinne isn't coincidence.

"It drives you. You need that competition. It's obviously fun to play with Juuse, watch him become more comfortable in this league," Rinne said. "He's an extremely talented young goalie. I think we have a good relationship here. We're going to gain from each other, learn from each other."

Part of the intrigue for Rinne's next contract with Nashville was that plan of succession. Would Rinne eventually become the "1-A" goalie, despite starting in over 59 games per season since 2014? When could, or would, Saros take the crease?

Rinne said there hasn't been any timeline established between him and the Predators.

"For my point of view, I wanted to stay here. From the get-go, that was my goal. It ended up going down pretty smooth. The team wanted to keep me around. I absolutely love it here," he said.

"But we haven't talked about the future. In this sport, you can't predict the future."

Pekka Rinne is thinking about the Predators.

He was 26 when he took over the Nashville crease from a platoon of Dan Ellis and Chris Mason in 2008-09. Barry Trotz was still the coach then, with Mitch Korn as his goalie whisperer. Shea Weber was 23. Ryan Suter was 24. All four have moved on. Some to bigger and better things, some not.

"I've been here for a long time," Rinne said. "When I came here, it was easy to come in and join the team. Great leaders at the time. Since those days, things have changed, but I feel like it's the same culture. You just be yourself. In the locker room, there are no rookies, no vets. Everybody's on the same line. As a young player, you can speak your mind."

Rinne smiled. "To a certain extent."

He's the oldest player in the locker room, beating defenseman Dan Hamhuis by just over a month. Hamhuis returned to Nashville this season after leaving via free agency in June 2010, and he played with Rinne as the goaltender in his first NHL seasons.

"Nope, still the same guy," he said, when asked if Rinne has changed over the years. "Still just the nicest guy in the world. Humble guy. And now he's played long enough that he's chipping away at some records. It's neat to see, because he deserves it. He works incredibly hard. As hard as he did when he first came into the league. And that's why this team has been so good."

Goalies are like great rock drummers: Sometimes they're the difference between a song being a hit or a flop, but most of the time they're counted on as a steadying, consistent presence. Keep the beat. Don't screw up.

Rinne is, outside of a few notable playoff defeats, that goalie.

"He's the backbone of this team. We have a good D corps, but we wouldn't be near as good without him. He's been that good, for that many years," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said.

"He brings that perfect balance of looseness to the room and seriousness when we need it. Incredible teammate, and a guy you look up to," Hamhuis said.

That's not to say there aren't times when Rinne shows that competitive fire. It's just that his teammates are never the targets of that ire.

"I've seen him get fired up. Seen a couple of stick breaks over the years. Not too many, but a couple. He never gives it to us, though. He internalizes it," center Colton Sissons said.

Rinne feels that for the most part he's the same guy who ascended to the Predators' starting job a decade ago, with one notable exception: the amount of training necessary to keep up.

"The older you get, you have to be an athlete 24/7. Always take care of your body. The demand today is higher than ever before. The game is faster. There's more skill on the ice than ever before. You have to take care of yourself," he said.

But from an attitude perspective, Rinne feels he hasn't varied much from his first NHL win through his becoming the winningest Finnish goalie in league history.

"I feel like I'm the same guy. I'm sure I've changed in some ways, but I feel like I'm the same guy," he said.

"Everybody handles their ups and downs differently. When it's the end of the season like last year, and everything is done, it takes you some time to get over it. But at the same time ... it gets easier when it gets older. You can put things in perspective. Be a little more remorseful for yourself, I guess."

And after that bout of remorse, perhaps one flies to Las Vegas to pick up a trophy. One that says you're the best goalie in the NHL, accomplishing another achievement in a remarkable career that's still thriving in Nashville.

"Yeah," said Rinne, with a smile. "That was awesome."