Bruins have NHL on the defensive

Bruins have NHL on the defensive
November 4, 2011, 12:41 pm
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BOSTON -- Pekka Rinne finished second to Tim Thomas in the Vezina Trophy voting last year by a healthy margin despite an amazing season for the Nashville Predators.

But the Preds' puck-stopper did surpass the Bruins goaltender in one pretty significant category -- and probably the one area that playersuse as their ultimate scoreboard--when he signed a seven-year, 49 million contract with Nashvilleon Thursday afternoon.

Rinne is in the same elite goaltender class as Thomas and even finished ahead of Thomas in the Hart Trophy voting last year. Hes a 29-year-old goalie entering his prime in a positional category where most players dont truly find greatness until after their 30th birthday. Hell also be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL beginning next season when his 7 million-a-year contract kicks into gear in Music City.

So much of the game of hockey revolves around the goaltending position, said Nashville GM David Poile during the conference call to announce Rinnes signing. So many of us believe that you build a hockey team from the goaltender on out. In our estimation weve signed the best goaltender in the NHL, and he gives us the best opportunity moving forward to backstop the Predators in their quest to win the Stanley Cup.

All that being said, the former Nashville eighth-round pick has just one playoff series victory under his belt and has a tremendous amount left to prove along with his Preds' teammates.

How does this all involve the Bruins?

Theres no denying Rinnes big-bucks deal became an easier sell for an executive like Poile after watching the cheap route on goaltending go belly up around the leagueafter it was in vogue only a year or two ago. Instead it is the combination ofsuperb goaltending fromThomas along with a hearty defense and hard-working offense that have become the successful template after Boston's run to the Cup.

Everybody pointed to the successful goalie duo of Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood with the Detroit Red Wings as the successful model for teams looking to simply load up on quality forwards and defensemen in front of the goaltenders. Philadelphia infamously tried to go with the goaltender-by-committee route last season, with disastrous results that ended with a blown apart roster.

Things are now trending in the opposite direction after Tim Thomas carried the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship last season. Goaltending has always been important at the NHL level, but last year proved that elite goaltending can be the biggest game-changer during the postseason.

That seems to be message going around the league after the Flyers (Ilya Bryzgalov) and Predators (Linne) locked up their goalies to long-term, big-money contracts. An elite goaltender and a decent defensive system all but guarantee that a team will consistently be in the hunt for a playoff berth, and the myth of the hot goaltender in the playoffs was once again proven true with each diving, flopping little piece of goaltending magnificence Thomas authored during his brilliant postseason run.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli realized that before anyone.

Rinnes contract pushes Thomas 5 million-per-season pact down to the 11th-highest salary cap figure for a goalie, and certifies just how valuable Bostons franchise goaltender has become since he signed his deal three years ago.

Just little more than a year ago, Chiarelli was harangued from seemingly all corners of the hockey world for handing an aging goaltender in Thomas such a deal. The Bruins were having salary cap issues, and many called for Chiarelli to deal Thomas.

But Chiarelli wisely held on to Thomas through his hip struggles after receiving only middling offers for him two summers ago, and then reaped the full benefits when Thomas won the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup while putting together one of the best seasons in the modern era of goaltending. The tight cap situation, meanwhile, was eventually settled when Marc Savard was lost to a concussion and Marco Sturm was traded away for a bag full of nothing.

So those who argued it was a troublesome contract for the Bruins and, yes, I am raising my hand while I type this away on my keyboard now have to admit that Chiarelli and the Bruins got good, old-fashioned value for Thomas.

Its become even better with a motley goaltending crew of Rinne, Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cristobal Huet, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur all earning more money than what the best goaltender in the world will bank.

The Rinne deal could also set fellow Finnish countrymen Tuukka Rask off wondering just how much he could earn if he were dealt to another team.

But thats a story for another day.

This weeks story is about a goaltender entering his prime in Nashville that just signed a lucrative new deal, and about a 37-year-old puck-stopping war horse in Boston who's become the hot new trend in an NHL world where everybody wants to be like the champs.