The New York Rangers did not make a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights prior to the Expansion Draft, rolling the dice on who the 31st franchise in the NHL would select from the Blueshirts. The consensus was that one of Oscar Lindberg, Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast, or Antti Raanta would be the selection. Many people, including here at The Hockey Writers, expected Raanta to be the pick following an excellent year in net.
However, he was not. Center Oscar Lindberg was selected by the Golden Knights. While that opened up a small hole at the bottom of the Rangers lineup, the fact that Raanta is still in Rangers blue could be a blessing in disguise for Jeff Gorton and company — for one of two reasons.
For one, he is only making $1 million this year, the last year of his contract, and slots in nicely behind Henrik Lundqvist. He can simply play his contract out, and outperform his $1 million price tag, and go hit the market. However, the other reason why he is valuable to the Rangers is how valuable he can be on the trade market.
Setting the Goalie Market
In Elliotte Friedman’s pre-Expansion Draft 30 Thoughts column he touches on the goalie market quite a bit (and also expresses surprise that the Rangers did not make a deal to protect Raanta). There are a multitude of teams that are looking for help in net, but he mentions four teams that are looking for a possible starter (and would be more likely to spend assets on a cheap goalie than a team simply looking for a back-up to an already entrenched starter).
The four teams he mentioned that are in the market for starting goalies are: Philadelphia, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Arizona.
Breaking this down even further, two teams look like questionable fits immediately. Philadelphia is one, mostly because it is hard to imagine either team helping each other in a trade (though something like that is far from impossible) and Vancouver, mostly because, as per Friedman, they are not necessarily ruling out bringing back Ryan Miller.
That leaves Winnipeg and Arizona – two teams with gaping holes in net.
Raanta Versus the Competition
Raanta had a really good year last year, and simply put, would be a massive upgrade for either Winnipeg or Arizona. Below is Raanta’s SAVE Chart, when compared to the two netminders who spent played the most games for the Jets:
Raanta was a well-above average goalie last season, and for $1 million was an absolute steal for the Rangers. His high-danger save percentage is well above the league average, and is definitely the most impressive thing about his SAVE chart. When you compare him to either Jets starter Connor Hellebuyck or back-up Michael Hutchinson, the difference is vast. Raanta would be a significant upgrade over both of them, and would be the best goaltender on the roster by a significant margin. For a team that missed the playoffs by seven points, a solid goaltender may be the difference.
Now, lets see if that hold up in Arizona as well:
Arizona is also a fit, as Raanta outperformed newly acquired Chad Johnson. Johnson is far from a bad goalie — his struggles come from high-danger saves — but he was simply acquired for the Expansion Draft, and is not under contract for next season. Flames writers even expect they will re-sign him to back up Mike Smith.
Louis Domingue is still young, but he does not look ready for a number one role. His high-danger save percentage was impressive, for sure, but he countered that with a truly abysmal low-danger save percentage. He was very inconsistent, and bringing in someone like Raanta to provide a steady hand in front of him (and still will not dominate the playing time, letting Domingue get plenty of ice time) would go a long way in stabilizing the goalie play in Arizona.
This is not an unfamiliar position for the Rangers. Just a few years ago, the Rangers followed up an excellent season by back-up Cam Talbot and traded him to Edmonton for three draft picks. This past season, Talbot won 42 games for the Oilers, en route to a playoff berth.
Raanta has the upside to do the same thing for another team, and the Rangers get benefit yet again from it, in terms of drafts picks or even a young forward who can replace the recently lost Lindberg. Teams around the league have inquired about Raanta, and a trade can continue the Rangers offseason makeover. And even if he is not traded, he is a premier back-up, making pennies on the dollar for his value.