Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Arizona Coyotes.
Yes, you could make a fair argument that Antti Raanta was under greater pressure last season.
After serving as one of the NHL’s sturdiest backup goalies, Raanta was set to finally receive a chance to prove that he could be a No. 1 guy in 2017-18. The steady Finnish netminder also entered the season in a contract year, ultimately setting himself up to sign a three-year, $12.75 million extension in April.
Yet, with all that in mind, it sure feels like Raanta has a lot to prove.
If forced to grade his work last season, it would be foolish not to give him high marks. He managed a decent record (21-17-6) and a fantastic .930 save percentage on a team that was mediocre at best. As it stands, Raanta seems like he could end up being a bargain at $4.25M per season.
Still, there’s a gut instinct to grade him as “Incomplete,” at least as a starter.
[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]
After all, he only played 47 games last season. Raanta dealt with injury headaches early in 2017-18, and the Coyotes dug themselves too deep a hole for his strong work to matter, at least beyond ending a disappointing season with optimism.
The contract factors heavily into expectations, or at least it should.
Role-wise, yes, Raanta was already the No. 1 last season. Still, it was somewhat on a “trial” basis. While acquiring Raanta cost the Coyotes assets, you could also square away some of those costs as part of the price for Derek Stepan. With that in mind, his $1M cap hit in 2017-18 made it seem silly to be too critical of any missteps.
While I believe that $4.25M is a very fair price, and could easily stand as a steal, it unquestionably raises the stakes. If Raanta falters, he could very well draw moderate Scott Darling-type comparisons. (Hey, both stood out as Blackhawks backups before signing multi-year deals in the $4M neighborhood …)
And, let’s be honest. you could probably argue that virtually every starting goalie has at least an argument for “under pressure” status. Despite being an unpredictable position production-wise, a goalie can make or break just about any team, and the Coyotes are no exception. If Raanta can be outstanding and a workhorse, Arizona could accelerate its rise. If he flops, the Coyotes might feel like they’re more in quicksand than in a rebuild.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.