By Chris Block
For the time being, goaltending is suddenly in short supply once again for the Blackhawks.
On Saturday after completion of the NHL Entry Draft, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman traded goaltender Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers in exchange for minor league forward Ryan Haggerty.
Haggerty, 22, will be a second year pro this coming season. He posted 15 goals and 18 assists in playing all 76 regular season games for the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2014-15. Haggerty notched 2 goals and 4 assists in 14 playoff games for Hartford.
The undrafted right winger out of R.P.I. is a Stamford, CT native and figures to add nice layer of scoring to the IceHogs.
Haggerty is familiar with IceHogs rookie defenseman Michael Paliotta. The due played two seasons together in the United States National Development Team Program. Haggerty is six weeks older than Paliotta.
Raanta, 26, now gets the opportunity to be Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in New York.
The Rangers dealt Cam Talbot to Edmonton at the Draft over the weekend in exchange for three picks; #57 (NYR then used it in another deal in sending Carl Hagelin to Anaheim for Emerson Etem. NYR got the #41 pick in that swap and selected Ryan Gropp, LW from Seattle Thunderbirds-WHL), #79 (Sergey Zborovskiy, D, Regina Pats-WHL) and #184 which New York used to take a goalie prospect, Adam Huska of the Green Bay Gamblers [USHL]. The Oilers are looking at Cam Talbot now as their number one goalie. Talbot will be 28 next week. He’s been in the NHL the past two seasons with New York, appearing in 57 games. He’s 33-15-5 with a .931 save percentage and 2.00 goals against.
Raanta came to the Blackhawks after the 2013 championship after having played four seasons in Finland’s pro league, two with Lukko and the latter two with Assat. Raanta won the SM-Liiga championship with Assat and won the league’s Jari Kurri Award for being the best player in those ’12-13 playoffs.
In his first season with the Blackhawks, Raanta posted modest numbers (2.71, .897) over 25 appearances. He was brought back on a two-year contract and put up great numbers (1.89, .936) for the Hawks as Corey Crawford’s backup and in Crawford’s absence in December.
But Raanta lost his job to Scott Darling, who was as good or slightly better than Raanta in his outings. In the end, the Blackhawks chose Darling. A lot of that had to do with Darling being 6 inches taller than Raanta.
In trading Raanta, that leaves the Blackhawks with two goaltenders under contract for the 2015-16 season – Crawford and Darling.
Trading Raanta saves no cap space since Raanta’s cap hit is just $750,000 and would not count against the Hawks cap even if he was in Rockford.
The bigger issue for the Blackhawks was Raanta is waiver eligible. It’s possible they would have lost Raanta for nothing had they exposed him to the waiver process for the purpose of assigning the goaltender to Rockford come October.
At last word, the Blackhawks were talking to Michael Leighton about returning for another season as Rockford’s number one goalie. Leighton is open to it and negotiations were scheduled at one point last month. He has a young family and journeying over to Europe again may not be his first option at this point.
Leighton played the 2013-14 season in Donetsk, Ukraine, which is a war torn area 40 miles from the Russian border. Donetsk’s KHL team, HC Donbass, had its home area overtaken by pro-Russian separatists in the spring of 2014, forcing Donbass to play out its season and playoffs on the road and in Slovakia. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down near Donetsk on July 17, 2014. HC Donbass’ operations were suspended for the 2014-15 season due to the ongoing war in the Donetsk region. Michael Leighton signed with the Blackhawks in August of 2014.
Leighton and Darling posted similar numbers while in Rockford together last season. In fact, Leighton performed better in stretches, and with far less goal support than Darling got. But Leighton is 34 and has had his chances at the NHL level. Darling is eight years younger and seen for his potential still at this point.
Mac Carruth is a restricted free agent. Carruth, 23, was drafted by the Blackhawks in the 7th round of the 2010 draft.
Generally, the Blackhawks believe that a goalie begins to realize his potential around the age of 24-25. So, it’ll be interesting to see if Carruth is re-signed. Odds are he will and will again battle for the backup job in Rockford. At this point there’s no reason to believe Carruth can handle even half the workload at the AHL level. He started three games for the IceHogs last season. He picked up one shutout and posted a 1.69 goals against and .925 save percentage. Carruth had a very strong second half with the Blackhawks’ ECHL affiliate in Indianapolis. The Hawks are probably hopeful Carruth can build off of that this fall. As good as his Indy Fuel run was, though, Carruth didn’t give the appearance of a confident goaltender when he got a start in the IceHogs’ regular season finale against Toronto in mid-April.
It’s believed the Blackhawks will invite at least a couple goaltenders to prospect camp in a couple weeks who could potentially get AHL contracts. Ken Appleby, who was passed over in the NHL draft for a third time this past weekend, is expected to be one of those goalies.
Appleby, 20, was an invite at last summer’s camp and recently won the OHL and Memorial Cup championship as the goaltender for the Oshawa Generals.
The other name in the Hawks crease scenario is Anders Nilsson.
Nilsson, 25, played this past season for the Kazan Ak Bars in the KHL. Kazan, led by the stellar goaltending of Nilsson, advanced to the Finals of the KHL championship where they were defeated by SKA St. Petersburg. SKA’s offense was steered by Ilya Kovalchuk and new Blackhawk, Artemi Panarin.
The Hawks acquired Nilsson’s rights from the New York Islanders in last October’s trade of Nick Leddy (along with goalie Kent Simpson) in exchange for Ville Pokka, T. J. Brennan and Nilsson.
Nilsson opted not to sign with the Islanders after his entry-level deal expired after the 2013-14 season. Nilsson had decided he no longer wanted to play in the American Hockey League, believing it was no longer good for his development.
At this point, Nilsson is in a holding pattern. That being said, it’s unlikely Nilsson will leave the KHL to be the number one in Rockford, or split the starts in Rockford, as was the plan last year for Darling and Leighton. If Leighton is re-signed, the Hawks will likely again be looking for a second, younger goalie to take half the season in the IceHogs net.
Reportedly, Nilsson has two standing offers in the KHL from Kazan and Yaroslavl.
However, Nilsson is leaving his options open at this point for a chance to play in the NHL.
That ‘chance’ does not appear to be open in Chicago, where Corey Crawford and backup Scott Darling appear to be firmly entrenched in the Blackhawks’ crease.
Nilsson is also looking for a one-way contract. That’s something the Blackhawks can afford, or a two-way contract with a high AHL salary, but there’d also be the problem of Nilsson being exposed to waivers at some point if he’s on a one-way contract.
If the Blackhawks don’t work out, Nilsson is hopeful Stan Bowman will trade his rights to a team that will give Nilsson a fair chance to win an NHL spot.