The Gift of Antti Raanta

USA Today

Raanta celebrates his first win (Bruce Bennett)

Raanta celebrates his first win (Bruce Bennett)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! 21 games into the regular season, the Rangers and their fans have lots to be thankful for: they lead the Metropolitan division, the offense is scoring at a record pace, and of course the goaltending duo of Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta.

A Good Move

First things first, for those who think this is an article advocating for the Rangers to start Raanta over Lundqvist, this isn’t the case. The Rangers have been very fortunate over the last few years with regards to the goaltending tandem. Remember back in 2013 when fans actually called for Cam Talbot to take over the starting job from Henrik Lundqvist? Good times. After Talbot was shipped to Edmonton during the 2015 draft, Rangers management made quick work in acquiring former Blackhawks netminder, Antti Raanta for Ryan Haggerty.

One thing we know is certain. Henrik Lundqvist is getting older, to the point that many hockey “experts” were already writing him off at the beginning of the season. With tons of hockey-both regular season and playoffs- under his belt, Lundqvist has reached the point in his career where he needs a viable backup, almost a 1A type goalie. Ideally, Lundqvist should be getting 55-60 starts. Enter Raanta.

Stellar Backup

As I write this article while the Rangers get demolished by the Penguins, Raanta has been stellar. His 5-0-0 record, 2.22 GAA and .934 SV% has given Alain Vigneault the confidence to put Raanta out against some of the better teams in the NHL. He’s already defeated the Sharks, Lightning, and Penguins. But the most important factor in this situation is Raanta’s modest $1mn cap hit through next season. As has been well documented over the last several months, the Rangers must make the most of their limited cap space. Just this year, the Blueshirts have been getting great production from the likes of Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Vesey and other young players on small cap hits.

 

Lundqvist and Raanta (Courtesy: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Lundqvist and Raanta (Courtesy: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Over the course of a long season, the Rangers are going to have games like they had against Pittsburgh. Lundqvist might have an off night, and the Rangers will have to play again in 24 hours. If you were to ask me on Sunday how the goaltending situation this week was going to play out, I, like most of you would have guessed that Lundqvist would get both starts vs. Pittsburgh, and Raanta would get the game at home vs. Florida.

Raanta’s strong play doesn’t only effect the Rangers in the short term, but it’s effect on the long term goaltending stability of this team can’t be understated. For the first time in many years, the Rangers have stockpiled a plethora of young goalies in the system. Down in Hartford, Mackenzie Skapski continues to share backup duties with Brandon Halverson, while Adam Huska and Igor Shestyorkin continue to develop in the NCAA and KHL, respectively. Raanta’s ability to adequately fill in for Lundqvist has allowed these goalies to develop at an appropriate pace, and not have to rush in order to be a full-time backup for Lundqvist. 

If the Rangers have any hope of keeping up their stellar record throughout the season, the Rangers will have to keep relying on Raanta to keep up the great work he has done so far this season.

Follow me on twitter: @ekwestel