Predators reach deal with Rinne for 7 years, $49m

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NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - The Nashville Predators signed goaltender Pekka Rinne to a seven-year, $49 million contract Thursday on his 29th birthday, the largest deal in the team’s short history.

General manager David Poile called the signing evidence of ownership’s commitment to keeping the core intact. Rinne was due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1 along with defenseman Ryan Suter, while defenseman and captain Shea Weber will be a restricted free agent after being awarded $7.5 million through arbitration for this season.

“This is the first step of a process designed to retain our key players and leaders,” Poile said in a statement. “Pekka has grown with our franchise, just recently established our franchise record for career shutouts and is now recognized as one of the game’s elite players. We’re thrilled to know that he will be backstopping our franchise for several years to come.”

Rinne, a native of Kempele, Finland, was second in voting for the Vezina Trophy and fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy earlier this year after helping the Predators win their first playoff series. He ranked second in the NHL with a .930 save percentage, third in goals-against average (2.12) and tied for sixth with six shutouts.

He leads the NHL with the most shutouts since 2008-09, and his 22nd last weekend against Anaheim also was his 100th career victory.

This season, Rinne became the first goalie in team history to start each of the first 11 games. He leads the NHL with 307 saves and is second in shots against (333) and third in minutes played (624:37).

Nashville, which started play in the 1998-99 season, drafted Rinne in the eighth round in 2004 with the 258th pick overall. Rinne also has played for Finland in the World Championships in 2009 and 2010.

The Predators play at Phoenix on Thursday night.

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