Pekka Rinne wanted to get his money as quickly as possible.
He did exactly that Thursday, when the Nashville Predators goalie agreed to a seven-year, $49 million contract, the richest deal in franchise history.
Tom Cigarran, head of the franchise ownership group, stressed, though, that it wasn’t a race between Rinne and defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, who also are in the final years of their contracts, to get a deal done at the expense of the others.
“The money is there to sign these guys and we have every intention of doing it,” Cigarran said. “I hope [Rinne’s contract] makes a statement how committed we are to winning and not to just being a respectable franchise. … Those are people we want to keep in this organization for the long term and we are committed to doing everything we can to make that happen.
“It just turned out that Pekka was the first one we were in a position to negotiate with.”
Nashville failed last summer to come to terms on a long-term agreement with Weber, who was a restricted free agent. Instead, the sides went through arbitration and the Norris Trophy runner-up was awarded a one-year deal that pays him $7.5 million this season.
That led to speculation throughout the NHL that next summer would be even more challenging for the Predators given that Rinne and Suter were scheduled for unrestricted free agency with Weber set for another turn at restricted free agency.
Instead, it was just 11 games into the season – Nashville’s 12th was Thursday at Phoenix – that Rinne’s situation was resolved.
This is the second time Rinne signed an extension prior to the expiration of his contract. He is earning $4 million this season as part of a two-year pact he signed on Feb. 24, 2010.
General manager David Poile classified his discussions with Suter and Weber as “consistent rapport” with both the players and their agents.
“I think the biggest thing, the first choice from the start was to stay in Nashville and sign with the Nashville Predators … and the sooner the better,” Rinne said. “So we got the contract done and I feel very fortunate … that we got it done fairly soon.
“This was my decision. I was the first one of the three to sign and hopefully those two guys go next.”
The deal pays him $7 million for each of the seasons, which begin in 2012-13 and runs through 2018-19. Only one NHL goaltender, Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov ($10 million) has a salary of $7 million or more this season.
Rinne, 29, is the franchise’s record holder for shutouts and one of only two goalies in franchise history with at least 100 career victories. He was the runner-up last season for the Vezina Trophy, presented annually to the league’s top goalie, and finished fourth in voting for the most valuable player.
He has started all 12 games this season – a franchise first.
“Pekka embodies everything we want in a Predator player,” Cigarran said. “… He’s a terrific individual on and off the ice.
“This year’s team now has the highest payroll in team history and this signing ensures that it’s going up even more. We see this signing as an investment in the present and in the future.”
Even Rinne, though, can’t say for sure whether that future will include Suter and Weber.
“You always make choices on your own,” Rinne said. “I’ve had the luxury to play with those guys for three years now and I want to keep playing with elite players. I know we’re doing our best to get them re-signed here.”