Pekka Rinne gets the shaft from Team Finland…

It was supposed to be a two horse race.

Apparently there were three horses.

This morning, Finland announced it’s roster that’ll be headed to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The forwards included names you’d expect: Anaheim’s Saku Koivu, Minnesota’s Miiko Koivu, Calgary’s Olli Jokinen, Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula and, of course, “the Finnish Flash” Teemu Selanne. Even the blue line looks solid with names like Sami Salo of the Canucks, Joni Pitkanen of the Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers d-man (and former Predators captain) Kimmo Timonen.

But, in net, it’s a different story.

It was no secret that the Calgary Flames’ Miika Kiprusoff was going to be the starter for Team Finland. The guy’s won 40 games or more in a season three times, he’s a workhorse playing at least 74 regular season games each of the past four years and, if all that wasn’t enough, one of his saves was just selected as the greatest save of the decade by Yahoo’s Puck Daddy.

Which brings us to the supposed two-horse race.

Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne were supposed to be fighting it out for the primary back-up job. This morning we learned that Rinne didn’t get the back-up job. We also learned he’ll be at home during the Winter Games and not in British Columbia. Tampa Bay’s Antero Niittymaki was named to the roster as the third goalie, leaving last season’s should-have-been Calder Trophy winner Rinne off the roster.

As much as we’d love to be homers here, let’s be honest, Backstrom deserved to be the number two guy for Finland. He’s got more NHL experience than Rinne and, given that this is the Olympics, it only makes sense that experience be the difference maker. Besides, this is a “what have you done for me lately” age in sports. And, well, Rinne hasn’t “done much” lately.

Since November 27 – which coincedentally was Rinne’s first loss in seven games – Backstrom is 10-3-0 with a .910 save percentage. Also, since that same date, Rinne hasn’t won more than two games in a row and Backstrom has three different streaks of three wins or more. Bottom line is, Backstrom is the logical choice as the number two guy for Finland.

The really puzzling part of this is how Nittymaki made the roster. He’s 7-5-4 this season which is hardly an impressive record. Sure he plays on a bad team (currently 10th in the Eastern Conference) but that’s where you ignore the win-loss record and focus on the save percentage. Well that doesn’t help his case either. Nittymaki has an abysmal .877 save percentage so far in the month of December. Furthermore, he’s never really been a full-time starter in the NHL. He’s never started more than 46 games in any one season and he’s only won more than 20 games once (23 in 2005-06). He’s got a career .903 save percentage and 2.96 goals against average which are “average” at best and has a mere four shutouts in his career. By comparison, Rinne had seven shutouts last season alone.

Rinne is the obvious choice as the third string goaltender for Team Finland. Why Nittymaki is on the team instead is absolutely mind-boggling. If you look at both of them side-by-side, it’s no contest. Does Nittymaki know someone high up in the Finnish selection committee? Did Rinne piss off someone on the selection committee? Did Finland think Rinne’s one and a half seasons of often-spectacular NHL experience wasn’t as good as Nittymaki’s five seasons of mediocre NHL experience?

There really is no explanation for the omission and the hockey world, the Nashville Predators organization and Pekka Rinne himself would love your opinions on why. Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.

For the complete Team Finland roster, click here.

EDITED: Goaltenders such as Boston’s Tuuka Rask and Chicago’s Antti Niemi were also left off the Finnish roster but the reasons for their absence is quite obvious: both are rookies. Rask has a whopping 20 games of NHL experience and Niemi has 15. Rinne, by default, would be a better choice than either of those two guys based on that alone. When 2014 rolls around however, it’ll be a different story.

5 Comments

  1. Buddy Oakes

    December 30, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I could see arguments for Rask or Niemi over Nittymaki.

  2. Dirk

    December 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    For the 3rd spot, Finland’s not looking for a guy with a history of being a strong #1, though. Niitymaki’s had a good season in a lousy situation, while Pekka’s been decent, but that’s about it.

    And it you want to bash Niitymaki for his .877 Save Percentage in December, you should note that Rinne’s is only .887. An opportunity was there to earn this job for Pekka, but he just hasn’t done it so far.

  3. Dirk

    December 30, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    I forgot to give you kudos, though, for sticking up for our local boy!

  4. Dave

    January 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Rinne doesn’t have the experience that Nitty has and in reality the 3rd stringer doesn’t ever get into game action. I believe that Nitty got the nod based on his experience and loyalty to the program. Rinne will be on the next team. Finally Mr. Gover since I have no affiliation with the Preds or the Jackets I can honestly say that Steve Mason had a better rookie season than Rinne and he deserved to win the Calder.

  5. Jeremy K. Gover

    January 7, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Dave, I know Codey and I are in the minority on the 2009 Calder Trophy talk but, if you witnessed what Rinne did for his team on a consistent basis last season and compared it to what Mason did (i.e. “rarely ever single-handedly won a game for his team”), it’s pretty obvious that Rinne was the better choice. Bottom line, he at least deserved a Calder nomination.