The Chicago Blackhawks have announced that goaltender Antti Raanta and forward Ben Smith have agreed to two-year contract extensions. They were eligible to become restricted free agents on Tuesday.
Raanta’s deal is worth $1.5 million while Smith will earn $3 million over the life of his contract, per ESPN/TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.
After some brief stints with the Blackhawks over the last few years, Smith firmly established himself in 2013-14 by scoring 14 goals and 26 points in 75 games. He helped the team kill penalties and served as a bottom-six forward. Chicago wasn’t afraid to use him in the playoffs either and Smith ended up averaging 15:13 minutes per contest in Chicago’s postseason run, up from 12:44 minutes in the regular season.
Raanta also had a big season in 2013-14. Although Nikolai Khabibulin was supposed to serve as Corey Crawford’s understudy, Khabibulin was sidelined for almost the entire campaign. Raanta took his place, posting a 2.71 GAA and .897 save percentage in 25 games.
The 25-year-old goaltender is expected to continue to serve as Chicago’s backup now that he’s re-signed.
One can almost argue that every big Corey Crawford save and strong playoff performance decreases the Chicago Blackhawks’ incentive to give pending restricted free agent goalie Antti Raanta a nice raise.
Even Raanta acknowledges the cloudy situation:
Despite the confusion, Raanta still took the time out to provide one of his charming and slightly-less-than-fluent quotes about a whirlwind first season in the NHL:
On one hand, the Finnish netminder managed a 13-5-4 record with Chicago. On the other, his save percentage was a below-average (if not bad) mark of .897. For some perspective, Ray Emery put up a dominant 2012-13 season with the Blackhawks but was unable to replicate that work with the Philadelphia Flyers this season.
The Blackhawks struggled with their backup situation this season, as Nikolai Khabibulin’s health and inconsistency derailed somewhat shaky plans to use him as the No. 2 while the team acquired journeyman Jason LaBarbera in case Raanta faltered.
With his restricted status in mind, Raanta will probably need to settle for a cheap deal (or maybe flee to Europe), especially considering Crawford’s $6 million cap hit and a tight cap situation for Chicago overall.
It could be interesting to watch this “big mystery” unravel, then.
It wasn’t that long ago that Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was pursuing goalie after goalie, hoping that one of the promising, but largely inexperienced netminders he got would be capable of running away with the starting gig.
Enter Ben Bishop, who had some impressive AHL campaigns to his name and was solid with limited playing time in Ottawa. Yzerman gave up Cory Conacher, who was having a great rookie campaign, and a fourth rounder in April 2013 to get him and he’s proven to be a steal at that price.
The 27-year-old goaltender made his mark on the Lightning history books last night when he posted a 23-save shutout over the New Jersey Devils, earning his franchise record breaking 31st victory of the season.
“It’s special,” Bishop told NHL.com. “It’s something I don’t really stop and think about right now; maybe at the end of the season. We’ve got some games left, so hopefully I can add to that. It’s a team thing; the guys in front of me, I wouldn’t be here without them.”
There’s no doubt that wins are a team stat, but Bishop earned this record. He’s been one of the best goaltenders this season and has helped keep Tampa Bay afloat through Steven Stamkos’ recovery from a broken tibia.
The shutout was his fifth of the season, which puts him in a three-way tie for second place among the franchise’s top single-season performances. Nikolai Khabibulin holds the record with seven.
Has Nikolai Khabibulin played his last game in the NHL?
The Chicago Blackhawks announced today that the 40-year-old goalie underwent successful surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, news that raised the aforementioned question.
“The procedure went very well and I anticipate a full recovery,” Dr. Michael Terry said in a release. “He should be able to return to hockey in four to five months.”
Khabibulin is a pending unrestricted free agent and has struggled in limited appearances this season. If he can’t return this year, it’s hard to see the four-time All Star catching on with an NHL team next year.
But if he does retire, at least he’ll go out with a Stanley Cup ring (Tampa Bay, 2004).
Now that Corey Crawford has returned from a lower-body injury, the Chicago Blackhawks needed to chose between keeping veteran goaltender Jason LaBarbera or 24-year-old rookie Antti Raanta to serve as his understudy.
The Blackhawks made their decision known today by sending LaBarbera to AHL Rockford.
Given that Raanta excelled during Crawford’s absence to the point where he was named the co-winner of the NHL’s rookie of the month award, this move doesn’t come as a surprise. At the same time, there was an argument to be made for keeping LaBarbera.
With Crawford expected to get a clear majority of the starts now that he’s back, perhaps Raanta would have been better served by returning to the AHL where he could get more playing time. After all, Raanta is making the transition from European to North American hockey this season.
Nikolai Khabibulin remains sidelined with a lower-body injury that has already forced him to miss nearly a month and a half. Once Khabibulin is ready to return, the Blackhawks will make another adjustment.