2 New Starting Goalies to Watch
Goalies are just different.
Beyond the obvious -- like special equipment and the unique mindset that it takes to step in front of a hurtling disc of frozen rubber -- there are also statistical and analytical issues. While it’s easy to cite a stat like goals against, it’s tough to say what is 100% a goalie’s fault. Sometimes he’s just hung out to dry, but that goal still goes down as a mark against him.
Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes
After backing up Corey Crawford in Chicago and getting demoted during the 2014-15 playoffs, Raanta got his shot to play a bigger role with the New York Rangers. In two seasons on Broadway working with goalie whisperer Benoit Allaire, the Finn showed he wasn’t out of his depth, winning 27 games behind a less than mobile defensive corps. He turned that body of work into a trade to Arizona, where he’ll get his first shot to be a club’s number one goaltender.
Raanta’s underlying numbers make a strong case for him as a starter, though. Since the start of the 2014 season, he has saved 18.22 goals above average according to Corsica, putting him ahead of league mainstays like Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury and Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky. Those are the sort of numbers that will translate into wins regardless of the team in front of him.
But even if the Coyotes struggle, Raanta has the potential to bail them out. A large part of that comes from a technical tweak Allaire made in New York. The goalie coach encouraged the young Finn to show more patience and stay on his feet in the crease. While Raanta never reached Henrik Lundqvist levels of patience and crease depth -- and he probably lacks the freakish reflexes to play that extreme of a game -- it did help compensate for his comparatively small six foot frame.
That translates into an 82.03% high-danger save percentage since 2014, which puts him right next to Jonathan Quick (82.47%), Braden Holtby (81.55%), and his former goaltending partner, Crawford (80.84%). That big save potential will come in handy behind a young forward group and a defensive core that currently starts and ends with Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Scott Darling, Carolina Hurricanes
When Raanta got demoted during those playoffs, it was Darling who took his place. His road to the NHL was well documented -- he was kicked off his college team and spent time in the with team like the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Louisiana Ice Gators and the ECHL’s Florida Everblades before making it to the NHL -- but the before long, the childhood Blackhawks fans was hoisting the Stanley Cup.
He spent the next two seasons backing up Crawford before Carolina acquired his rights and signed him to a four-year deal as their new starter. Similar to Raanta, Darling boasts a strong high danger save percentage, stopping 82.69% of those shots. He’s also saved 20 goals above league average and saved 1.19% percent of saves above expectation during his NHL career, putting him in the top 10 of both categories since 2014. Once again, he's the sort of goalie who can bail you out after a turnover or blown coverage.
Darling also gets the nod based on the strength of his team. While Raanta’s Coyotes are firmly at the start of their development, the Hurricanes are much closer to their prime. Veterans like Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner are still in their mid-twenties. The 'Canes also have seven players still on entry level contracts, including Sebastian Ah, Noah Hanifin, and Jaccob Slavin. Not only is Carolina predicted to finish towards the top of the league this season, but they have over $14 million in cap space to keep the core together for a while.
With all of that being said, there’s always potential for a hiccup when a goalie transitions from a backup to a true starter. And while there’s no way to know how Raanta or Darling will react to the increased workload, they definitely have the skill sets to stop everything that comes their way.