Minnesota Loses Out on Antti Raanta; Forced to Settle With Zach Parise/Ryan Suter
Posted by Nathan Wells on Monday, June 03, 2013
The wait for Finnish goaltender Antti Raanta is over and it isn't a happy end for fans in the State of Hockey.
Multiple reports, including TSN insider Bob McKenzie, have Raanta agreeing to terms Monday with the Chicago Blackhawks. The paperwork reportedly hasn't been finalized, but the 24 year-old free agent can sign a one-year entry level contract.
This news means that Minnesota misses out on a top young free agent for the third time in less than a year and are forced to settle with just signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise.
Prior to angering 29 other teams by signing the most high-profile free agents to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts in July 2012, Minnesota missed out on both Swiss sensation Damien Brunner and former University of Wisconsin defenseman Justin Schultz.
The Wild also waited almost until the last minute to sign 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund. That deal was never in question. Granlund did sign four days after playing for Finland in the 2012 World Championships. However, the Finnish forward spending another season with HIFK (SM-Liiga) and anticipation did set up similar watch. It paid off in that he signed. Still, injuries and Mike Johnson's concerns about the stuff he needs to work on (fitness and explosiveness) slowed down a rookie season.
Coming through on one of Brunner or Schultz would have been helpful. The 27 year-old Brunner, who Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher tried to ink in 2011, signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Schultz, meanwhile, used a loophole to become a free agent and then pulled a reverse Chris Pronger by leaving his drafted Anaheim Ducks for the Edmonton Oilers.
Both players had impacts in their rookie season. Brunner led the Red Wings in postseason goals with five while Schultz, who had Minnesota on his shortlist, terrorized the AHL before settling in with the Oilers. He wasn't near-Calder nominee Jonas Brodin, but imagine the combo of the two.
When imagination time is over, then visualize the combination of Suter and Parise. That is real. And more importantly they were really good. Suter received his first ever Norris nomination with record ice time and had 32 points (4G-28A) in 48 regular season games. Parise led the team in goals and by example as the Wild made their first postseason trip since 2008 before losing to Chicago in five games.
However, they are not Antti Raanta.
Besides the Wild and Blackhawks, Raanta was pursued by multiple teams including Winnipeg and Edmonton. That Chicago was the team to once again beat Minnesota to the task came as a surprise. The Blackhawks already have Corey Crawford and Ray Emerey albeit the latter is an unrestricted free agent. So are both AHL goalies Henrik Karlsson and Carter Hutton.
Signing Raanta, who cleaned out the SM-Liiga trophy case with a .943 save %, 1.85 GAA for Assat Pori and represented Finland in this year's World Championships, allows more flexibility for the Blackhawks. Especially as they presently make their way through a 2-0 Western Conference Final lead against Los Angeles. If anything, it is a case of the rich getting richer.
For the not-as-rich Minnesota Wild, adding a young goalie to the fold would have helped with a position that is starting to see questions pop up a year after being full of depth. Despite not signing Raanta, or Brunner or Schultz for that matter, Fletcher has shown himself willing to go outside the box when it comes to way to improve the Wild into a richer team when it comes to talent. That is a trait to be admired. (Although the execution hasn't paid off as well as one would like.)
Now there is no guarantee Raanta, if he signed, is the missing piece. There is no guarantee he can replicate last year's numbers in the NHL. Just if he was signed, Minnesota would be looking for him to try to be similar to the last Finnish free agent goalie they signed.
You know, the one the 24 year-old could have replaced. Niklas Backstrom. He came to Minnesota in 2006 after winning two straight SM-Liiga titles with Karpat, stepping into the lineup when Manny Fernandez got hurt, and has been an Iron Range Red staple ever since.
Of course he hasn't done it alone. But question marks or not, the 35 year-old was the Wild's number one goalie for the majority of the season while Josh Harding recovered from being diagnosed with MS and Matt Hackett was sent packing to Buffalo. Bringing back Backstrom, who is an unrestricted free agent and just had hernia surgery, for less than the $6 million a year he just made the last four years seems more likely.
That of course is if Minnesota wins a bidding war outside of those two guys the team signed last July.