Backups, like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect. Although, Las Vegas fans shouldn’t disregard backup goaltenders. Chances are one of the NHL’s secondary netminders will play a much bigger role for the Golden Knights. Which brings me to a series focusing on potential VGK goaltenders. We’ve heard many scenarios surrounding certain NHL teams, Pittsburgh and Tampa being two of them. Let’s start with a situation involving a high profile name, and a backup that’s been dominating recently. Off to New York!
The shutout machine from Madison Square Garden is not who you think. While Henrik Lundqvist rests his old bones, backup Antti Raanta is playing like a number one. The 27 year-old Fin created a two-headed monster for the New York Rangers. Raanta is 8-1 with an outstanding 1.52 GAA, and he’s a backup. In ten starts, Hank’s backup let in less goals than Jimmy Howard, Thomas Greiss, Calvin Pickard and Andrei Vasilevskiy. All goaltenders who are expected to be left unprotected. Raanta’s a brick wall, stopping 62 of 63 shots over the past three games. An insane run that makes Alain Vigneault look a genius for benching his all-world goaltender. With a healthy Lundqvist sitting, Raanta allows New York a chance to keep their number one fresh. Which some believe has been a problem for Handsome Hank in the postseason.
In Finland, Raanta was an elite goaltender in the Liiga, the Finnish Elite League. His team won the championship in 2013 and he was named league and postseason MVP. After his award-winning season he signed as an undrafted free agent with Chicago. Battling it out with Scott Darling as Corey Crawford‘s backup, the Fin was traded to New York in 2015. Coming in clearly as a backup, Raanta has now created a sports radio type goaltending controversy. Vigneault slightly hinted towards one after Raanta’s third straight start.
Hank’s like all our players: team-first attitude… And right now there’s no doubt that Antti’s playing real well and deserves to play. I love Hank, but I love the team more and right now Antti is on top of his game. -Alain Vigneault
How’s that for confidence? When the head coach normally discusses backups its usually to tell the media he’s starting. It’s not typical to focus on backup goaltenders after three consecutive wins. Granted, the Rangers are playing superb hockey and you could argue either goaltender would be successful. Nevertheless, one goal allowed in 60 minutes kills that argument. Raanta’s trending up, which is what the Rangers and, more importantly, the Golden Knights want to see.
Moving forward the Rangers will rely on both goaltenders, and hand it over to Lundqvist in the playoffs. Which leaves Raanta’s remaining regular season starts a model for George McPhee’s scouts. We know the backup will be exposed, unless something mind-blowing happens. With reality in mind, Raanta’s GAA will go up and he’ll lose more than one game. What McPhee has to like is Raanta’s one year, $1M contract. If VGK can only commit $1M on a 40-50 game starting goalie than cap money can be spread elsewhere. Chances are offense is the area McPhee will have to address. Having a goaltending tandem could serve Vegas well in their first few seasons. A tandem would also create competition in net. Raanta has never started more than 25 games, so his numbers could look different. Or they could stay what they are, and prove he should be a starter.
One last positive for Raanta is his connection to the local community. The Fin wrote about his required military experiences and how it changed his life. In his Players Tribune column he explains why he honors NYPD and FDNY on his masks. Somehow Raanta would find a way to get involved with the Las Vegas community. Players like that should be targeted by Vegas. So keep an eye on Rantanplan. As the Rangers set up for a playoff run, Raanta will have motivation to play well. He wants to be a starter and is fully aware of expansion. It’s an audition for Raanta and Vegas scouts are Blake and Adam.