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.
I’d love to see an exciting young goalie like Raanta playing in Las Vegas, but as our backup. Best case he will have what, 30 games in net before the expansion draft? He might be the goalie of our future, but I’d still love to see him challenging Fleury or Murray or someone with more NHL experience for playing time.
Everytime I hear about the expansion draft I get so damn excited though. I can’t wait to have some players names associated with Las Vegas HC.
Great article – Thank you. As a long-time Ranger fan I enjoyed the fact that you repeated AV’s remarks as we start Raanta for the fourth consecutive game. Hank has a history of back-ups that have looked well for streaks (Biron, Talbot, Valiquette) He will prevail in the end, and of course has a no-trade clause and $8.500,000 cap hit.
As for the discussion above, Fleury has a no movement clause therefore exposing Murray. Tampa Bay has a two-headed monster, but Bishop is a UFA after this season probably meaning Vasilevsky will be protected.
Bottom line – Anti Raanta WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS! He should be on the 14-15 Chicago Black Hawks Stanley Cup; and who knows, it’s a younger,bigger, faster League and we could be successful quicker and Raanta could find his name on the Cup before he’s 32
Great article Jason. These are the type of players you guys should keep drawing our attention to so we can be excited if we happen to land one in the expansion draft.
I’ve been wondering a lot about what player the Knights can market around. It sounds like NHL draft picks take a couple of years to develop similar to baseball and, unlike say a top 10 pick in the NBA or NFL where the expectation is that they play heavy minutes (for the most part) from the get go, our entry guys could take some time to arrive. I can see free agents being reluctant to sign up for the expansion experience (although we do have good weather, great night life, and no state tax) It doesn’t sound like we’ll be getting much in the way of star power in the expansion draft either, outside of a few recognizable (past their prime or police blotter all-stars) names. I keep hearing Dustin Brown, which is a name that I actually know, but not for good reasons. People seem to be really down on him. I gather he’s on the downside of his career and (hockey) overpaid ( 6 million is like bench player money in the NBA or MLB but I’m still learning NHL economics so I guess it’s pretty bad). Doesn’t sound like we’ll get much in scoring but we might land a good defenseman or two and a good goalie, which sounds promising.
Goalies are awesome for hockey novices like me. Easy to spot and follow. Pretty easy to understand the basics (see puck, block puck, clear puck), they wear cool equipment (although not as bad ass as the Ken Dryden /Jason Voorhees masks back in the day, stupid safety), and they pretty much stay on the ice the whole time which is a plus. Best case scenario who do you think we land for our starter?
Then if we can draft whatever the equivalent of like a Laimber, Rodman, or an Artest. That player who’s chippy, plays a little dirty, plays hard non stop, not afraid to mix it up, basically an ornery prick that you hate his guts unless he’s on your team. Who best fits this role? Is there a real life version of a Hanson brother?
I think getting a player or two that new hockey fans can really get behind will go a long way to building and strengthening the Knights fanbase. A solid goalie and an asshole (but he’s our asshole) seem like good bets to me.
Being from NY, I follow the Rangers and was hoping our Knights would have Raanta at or near the top of the goalie list. He is still young, experienced, and fundamentally sound. Hopefully, we won’t be looking to put together a team of guys on the downside of their career and opt for players with upside instead.
No, Vegas shouldn’t take him, he’s terrible. Let him stay and rot in NY.
— Not a Rangers fan. No really, not at all. You believe me, right?