Goaltenders and Coaches Season Recap and Grades
With Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta between the pipes for Alain Vigneault’s club, there was not much to worry about entering the 2016-17 season. But unfortunately for all involved, that was not the case. Henrik had an off year, to say the least, and Raanta did an admirable job in keeping the team on track. With Raanta a viable candidate for the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft, and Henrik Lundqvist starting to show his age a bit, the Rangers find themselves at a crossroads with their goalies. Should Vegas select Raanta, the Rangers don’t have much in the way of an NHL-caliber backup within the organization.
They have a lot of promising goalie prospects not yet with the Rangers or their minor league affiliates. Igor Shestyorkin led his club, SKA St. Petersburg, to lift the Gagarin Cup as KHL champions. Tyler Wall backstopped UMass-Lowell to a Hockey East title with a .918 SV% and broke the school’s record for most wins by a rookie goaltender. And Adam Huska produced a .916 SV% in 21 games this season for UCONN.
But with the way Henrik Lundqvist rebounded in the postseason, one could argue that this year was very much a blip on the outstanding career of the Swedish goaltender. As for how he gets graded, you have to look at the season as a whole. He had a hot start, struggled mightily for an 8-10 week period between January and March, and finished strong against the Canadiens and Senators. Lundqvist will be a lifetime Blueshirt, with his contract not expiring until he turns 39 in 2021. Hank reached the 400 win mark this year, solidifying, even more, his place as one of the best goalies to ever lace up the skates. But, with Henrik turning toward the “back nine” of his career, the time is now for the Rangers to win a Stanley Cup. Grade: B-
As for Lundqvist’s Finnish understudy, it was a different kind of year. Raanta had an expanded workload because of Henrik’s struggles, playing in 30 games and posting a .922 SV% and a 2.26 GAA. Raanta has been a career backup, going all the way back to when he won the cup as one with the Chicago Blackhawks. But if he is taken by George McPhee and the Golden Knights, they will be getting a goaltender that showed he can handle the duties of being in net on a consistent basis. Grade: B
When it comes to Alain Vigneault and the rest of the Rangers coaching staff, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire did a great job keeping Antti Raanta ready as the team’s backup. In his first year as Rangers assistant coach, Jeff Beukeboom helped develop Brady Skjei into a top 4 defenseman and got some of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal’s game back. Scott Arniel’s powerplay played well early in the season but struggled mightily after the calendar turned to 2017.
And then we have Alain Vigneault. The Rangers head coach came under a lot of heat from both the media and the fans for how he handled his personnel. Defensive pairings were on the ice in key moments when they hadn’t been playing well, while certain players were in the lineup over others. Fans will always find something to complain about, but when it comes down to it, there were a few times where even I was like: “what the heck is he thinking?”
The players are responsible for what transpires on the ice. But it’s the coaching staff who are responsible for getting their players in a position to succeed. Grade: B-