Boclair: Cash out, cash in

Monday, November 7, 2011 at 10:05pm

Pekka Rinne is not going anywhere.

The Nashville Predators saw to that late last week when they signed the 29-year-old goalie to the largest contract in franchise history — seven years, $49 million.

Talk about a difference-maker. For the first time, coaches, management and players know that one of the game’s best at his position will be here well into his prime.

In order to maximize the impact of that transaction, though, general manager David Poile now must think a little differently as well.

In short, it is time for backup goalie Anders Lindback to go. Or at the very least, it is time for Poile to make it known around the league that the 23-year-old is available.

Not that Lindback is not a quality goalie or a worthwhile presence in the locker room. He absolutely is both.

It just seems obvious that now he is worth much more to Nashville in terms of what he can bring in a trade — i.e. gifted young offensive players — than he is sitting on the bench and watching 65-70 games per season.

From the earliest days of the franchise, Poile has held on to prospects as if his livelihood depended on it, which — in a lot of ways — it did. It was understood that talented, productive players eventually would price themselves out of town, so it was necessary to make sure that younger, more affordable replacements were available at every spot.

Rinne’s long-term presence completely changes the nature of the organizational depth at that particular position — where the talent stockpile is significant. At the end of training camp, coach Barry Trotz said he could not recall a time when the franchise had so much quality at that spot.

All of that potential is nice, but the need to develop potential starters there no longer exists.

Everyone behind Rinne is — at best — an NHL backup. That includes Jeremy Smith, who performed well in the preseason and won four of his first six starts at Milwaukee this season; Atte Engren, in his first full season in North America; former first-round choice Chet Pickard, whose transition to the professional game has not been as smooth as hoped; and this year’s top pick, Magnus Hellberg, who remains in Europe for now.

Most NHL teams do not have such a backlog at that spot, Many, in fact, have a hard time finding one quality goaltender upon whom they can rely from year to year and often teams will overpay if they think they can get one.

The combination of Nashville’s reputation for developing goalies and the level of Lindback’s play as a rookie (11-5-2, 2.60 goals-against average) ought to be more than enough to convince other clubs that the lanky Swede is worth whatever the Predators ask for him. And if they start to ask now, they can drive up the price as the trade deadline approaches.

Chances are, Lindback will make virtually any other team in the league better. That’s fine because there’s only so much good he can do for Nashville as long as he remains on the bench. Plus, he deserves the chance to make a name for himself, and that opportunity no longer exists here.

Granted, nothing in professional sports is guaranteed. Rinne could sustain a catastrophic injury at any time, and the deal ultimately could look terrible.

If you plan for the worst, though, you’ll never know the best.

Signing Rinne to such a sizable extension was the right thing to do. Now it is up to the Predators to make that deal pay off in other ways.