Who’s Better? Rinne or Vokoun?
This week, Pekka Rinne became the Predators all-time leader in games played by a goaltender with 384 appearances, moving past Tomas Vokoun. It’s always easier to remember the now and forget about the past when it comes to determining who was better, but Vokoun left an imprint on the organization that stands to this day.
On the surface, all the numbers favor Rinne. He has more wins, more shutouts, a higher sv%, and a lower GAA. About the only thing Vokoun beats him in is miles traveled leaving the crease. However, if we dig deeper, numbers only tell part of the story. Vokoun played 136 games in the first four years of the team’s existence and never finished a season with higher than a .910 sv%. To be fair, he was playing with guys like Jamie Heward, Drake Berehowsky, Dan Keczmer, Bob Boughner and Joel Bouchard during those years, so it’s hard to blame him. Add to that the fact he was just 22 when the Preds started putting him in net when most goaltenders don’t fully mature until at least their mid-20s. So right off the bat, Vokoun was put in some tough spots with a scrappy group of mostly cast-offs from other teams.
By the time Nashville finally made the playoffs in his 6th season, Kimmo Timonen and Marek Zidlicky had matured into the team’s top blue-liners and were grooming then 21-yr old Dan Hamhuis. Vokoun backstopped Nashville into a 1st round series with the mighty Detroit Red Wings. The disparity between the clubs was astounding. Detroit had a payroll of nearly $78M in the 2003-04 season, or $6.6M above the CURRENT salary cap. By contrast, Nashville’s salary was just shy of $22M. It was the ultimate underdog story taking shape. Vokoun, a former 9th round draft pick, facing Detroit and 11 Hall of Fame players. All he did was stop 94% of the shots he faced, including a 41 save shutout in game 4, allowing just 12 goals in the 6 games. If he wasn’t already, Vokoun supplanted himself as the face of the franchise and put the Preds on the map for the first time in their short history. One can even argue that the stir he caused over his last few seasons with the club, helped keep the franchise in Nashville. Even though the closest he came to receiving an individual award was placing 4th in the Vezina in 2006, you can’t argue the impact he had. In fact, if it weren’t for Dominik Hasek, he’d be hands down the best goaltender ever to come from the Czech Republic.
VOKOUN FINAL STATS WITH NASHVILLE: 383 games, 161 wins, .913 sv%, 2.54GAA, 21 shutouts.
Although he made a couple appearances before, 2008 was the year Rinne burst onto the scene. By December, he had moved into the starting role ahead of incumbent Dan Ellis. The 6’5” Finn has been the team’s go-to guy ever since and finished as a finalist for the Vezina 3 times. Like Vokoun, Rinne was a relative unknown, being taken in the 8th round of the 2004 draft. To show you how imperfect the draft can be, Rinne was the 26th goalie selected that year. TWENTY SIXTH! Rinne, and his ever-evolving helmets, finished 4th in the Calder voting in the 08-09 season behind Steve Mason, Bobby Ryan and Kris Versteeg(?). At 26, he was not your average rookie. Two years later, Peks put together an epic season that saw him place 4th in the Hart Trophy voting, but lost out on the Vezina to Tim Thomas of the Bruins. In 7+ seasons, he’s had a sv% below .910 just once and that was when he returned from his hip issues late in the 2013-14 season. His remarkable glove hand is one of, if not the NHL’s best at swallowing up pucks no matter the placement. Rinne has proven himself as one of the game’s elite netminders, evident by the Preds’ struggles during his time recovering from injury.
RINNE STATS THROUGH 383 GAMES: 206 wins, .919 sv%, 2.35GAA, 37 shutouts.
It’s difficult to say who has been more pivotal to the team’s success. Was it Vokoun, who would regularly get peppered due to a lack of talent surrounding him and stand on his head to earn victories? Or is it Rinne who has an embarrassment of riches for a D core in front of him, but fans cringe at the thought of life without him? Are Rinne’s numbers skewed some because he didn’t start until he was 26, as opposed to Vokoun who struggled to find consistency in his early 20’s? There’s lots of questions to be asked in this debate. Ultimately, when Rinne’s time is done, there will be no doubt as to who the best goalie in franchise history is. With any luck, we may even see his 35 be the first retired number in the rafters of Bridgestone Arena one day.