As we all know, during the past five years our beloved Chicago Blackhawks won two Stanley Cup championships. However, perhaps the most curious aspect of this statistic is the fact that the Hawks won those Cups with two different goalies. Two goalies and two Cups in the past five years…Now, I don’t my copy of Grays Sports Almanac handy, but I would bet this is a pretty rare occurrence in the scope of NHL history.
I mention this because despite their success over the past five years, the Blackhawks goaltender position has remained surprisingly flux. Nikolai Khabibulin, Cristobal Huet, Antti Niemi, Marty Turco, Corey Crawford, and Ray Emery all have had stints as starting goalie for the Hawks since 2009. Only after proving 2013 wasn’t a fluke performance did Crawford only recently lock up his job as starting netminder.
This brings me up to my main point. While Crow may be the starter for the foreseeable future, he also needs a reliable back-up keeper. The past few years, the Hawks have looked to veterans to fill the back-up role, with mixed results. Last year Khabibulin ker-ploded and the year before that, Emery used his (now we know artificially) high stock to resurrect his career elsewhere. When it comes to a reliable back-up goalie, after relying on veterans, the Blackhawks were back at square one, until now.
Keeping up with the Blackhawks’ recent tradition when it comes to goaltenders, Antti Raanta had an ahead-of schedule NHL debut last season when he stepped in for the injured Crawford. He helped the Hawks not miss a beat, and earned himself a multi-year contract as a result.
While being a back-up goalie is second fiddle by nature, it’s critical when it comes to ensuring a hockey team’s continual success throughout the regular season. Last season, with Khabibulin on the IR, Crawford had to shoulder an abnormally large amount of starts. Not only did Crow incur an injury in the process, but his fatigue clearly got the better of him in the Western Conference Finals, and one wonders how big of a role the regular season played. Needless to say, the Hawks need a back-up goalie that will a) be a reliable backstop and b) give Crawford a chance to stay fresh during the regular season.
Well, they’ll chosen Raanta for this crucial role and the question now is will he stand and deliver? I would certainly bet on the young Finland native, but Rant has to understand the amount of weight he’s now carrying on his shoulders this time around. Last season no one was expecting anything, but now a few more zeros and years on his contract say otherwise. Above all else Raanta needs to instill faith in the coaching staff that he can step in whenever needed and keep the Hawks humming. Spotty play will result in Crawford starting more games, and not entering the playoffs as fresh.
Bottom line is Raanta has earned himself a roster spot to the joy of many Hawks fans, and now it’s critical he keep it. Me personally, I can’t help but recall when the Blackhawks had both Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek in the goalie position, but hopefully I’ll be delving more into that comparison in a later post.
FOR THE DAGGER!