Evaluating the Blackhawks' goaltending without Antti Raanta
The Chicago Blackhawks traded Antti Raanta on Saturday, in a move that doesn't necessarily solve their salary cap woes. So why did they do it?
It took until after the NHL Draft was complete, but the Chicago Blackhawks finally made a trade of some sort. It just wasn't the one that many were expecting them to make, at least this early on in the summer. In trading Antti Raanta for Ryan Haggerty. Time will tell if this trade has any sort of real impact for the Hawks, in terms of the player that they acquired, but it's the trading of Raanta itself that makes this deal intriguing.
Moving Raanta wasn't a cap-saving move. He only counted $800k against the books for next season, as far as his cap hit is concerned. And given that the Hawks needed goaltending depth throughout the 2014-15 regular season, as Corey Crawford missed time on a couple of different occasions, you'd like to have three capable goaltenders in order to stash one in the AHL as depth.
The writing was clearly on the wall here for Antti Raanta for some time, though. With Scott Darling supplanting him as the no. 2 goalie behind Crawford, and even stealing a few starts in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was going to be Darling as the backup heading into next season. He signed a two-year extension back in February.
But should we now be worried about the Hawks' goaltending situation if something were to happen to either Darling or Crawford that required an additional goalie on the roster?
The Blackhawks are supposedly very high on Anders Nilsson, the goaltender they acquired from the New York Islanders as part of the Nick Leddy trade at the end of last summer. He looked very good in the KHL last season, and could be ready to make the jump back to American soil for the 2015-16 season, after spending this past season back in Russia. He finished the regular season with a 1.71 GAA and a .936 save percentage.
The issue with Nilsson, however, is that he returned to the KHL out of frustration after serving three years in the AHL for the Isles. He was very vocal about this and felt it was stifling his development to remain in the AHL for such an extended period of time. Would the Blackhawks encounter a similar situation with Nilsson? After all, it doesn't look like Scott Darling is headed back to the AHL anytime soon.
Of course, that's no lock either. We saw Darling perform at a high level, but also in a relatively small sample size, even if he was quite solid in the postseason against the Nashville Predators. The Blackhawks might be able to sell Nilsson on the idea of some sort of training camp opportunity in order to battle for playing time at the NHL level.
Nilsson's talent analysis on Hockey's Future is quite intriguing:
A huge goaltender that is technically skilled. Nilsson has good hockey smarts plays with calmness and has good mental strength. Challenges the shooters and has been very consistent during his career, rarely having bad games. Furthermore, he is athletic and quite agile.
It's also important to note that Nilsson wouldn't be able to immediately join the Hawks, as they merely own his rights. A contract of some sort would have to be worked out, though it's not as if a deal for Nilsson is going to affect the Hawks' cap situation one way or another too significantly.
Regardless of the situation with Nilsson and the Hawks' current goaltending depth, it all boils down to the fact that Antti Raanta wasn't all that coveted by the Blackhawks any more. And that's understandable. Sure, his numbers last year were good, but he was often seen flailing between the pipes in order to make a save and never looked entirely comfortable back there. While he does take a goaltender away that could potentially be used in the event of a Crawford or Darling injury, or a performance meltdown from the latter, it isn't a tremendous loss and his skill set could likely be replaced for a six figure deal at some point, if it becomes necessary. As of next season, he would have to clear waivers to go the AHL, which could also have been a factor in the decision.
That's not to say we won't miss his quirky personality around these Blackhawks TV segments.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.