The Curious Case of the Backup Goalie

By Chris Schubert

Mar 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) shoots the puck against Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta (31) in the first period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Blackhawks have a pretty good goaltender. Corey Crawford has proven himself to be one of the top 10 goaltenders in all of the National Hockey League. But that doesn’t mean the guy can play all 82 games in a season.

Two years ago, the Hawks struck gold in terms of a backup goaltender with one Ray Emery. Emery was so good in his stint as a backup, talks surfaced of him taking over for Crawford when the playoffs rolled around. As we all know, Crawford took his game to the next level and the Hawks held up Lord Stanley’s Cup when it was all over.

Last year, Emery road his good play into a nice contract with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Hawks were left searching for a backup. They ended up calling old friend Nikolai Khabibulin and giving him a shot at backup. That experiment didn’t work out as well as planned, forcing the Hawks to re-evaluate and trade for Jason LaBarbera. Stan Bowman then went out and signed Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta.

When Crawford went down with his injury, the Hawks turned to a young Finnish kid with no NHL experience and he rose to the challenge. While the numbers aren’t Vezina Trophy good, they were good enough for what the Hawks needed of him.

Crawford’s return almost certainly meant that Raanta would return to Rockford to continue developing his game. In a bit of a surprising move, the Hawks kept Raanta up, hoping that he would learn more at the NHL level than down in the AHL.

Now with the 2014-2015 season close to being underway, the Hawks seem poised to go with Raanta again as their backup. Talks of a Martin Brodeur signing circulated, but nothing ever came of it. They re-signed Raanta for $750,000 for the next two seasons, giving them cap flexibility plus some stability at the position.

With Raanta now fully on-board as the backup, the Hawks have another young goalie they can groom and let develop into an NHL starter. Raanta gives the Hawks a good chance to win every time he’s out their in the crease and he should take a giant step forward in his game, helping everyone in the process.