The New York Rangers And Their Consistently Weirdly Amazing Backup Goalies

Updated: March 22, 2017 at 7:00 am by Pat Keogh

Over the past decade, the New York Rangers have become known or their goaltending. Stolen games, highlight reel saves, and a generally elevated PDO figures have become the hallmarks of the team’s backend. I’m referring, of course, to their exceptional backup goalies.

While Henrik Lundqvist has generally held down the fort as more or less the best goalie of the past ten years, the Rangers have quietly developed some solid backups. Goalie coach Benoit Allaire is to thank for this, masterfully turning diamonds in the rough into, well, diamonds. Although Martin Biron tapered off towards the end of his Rangers career, he was generally solid. Cam Talbot had that wonderful stretch of games while Lundqvist was out with a throat injury, and these past two seasons, Antti Raanta has stepped up to the plate in a major way for the team. 

With Hank’s recent hip injury, Raanta now has a solid share of the spotlight, at least until the playoffs start. Although the Finn will finish the season with less games played than Talbot did during the 2014-15 campaign in which he won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, given to the New York Ranger who goes above and beyond in their on and off ice performance, he’ll still reach a large enough number that we can at least begin to make a comparison to the current Edmonton Oiler starter. Talbot, during his standout season that raised his rep from solid backup to potential starting goaltender, played 36 games, with Raanta having played 27 so far (and a few more to come on top of that most likely).

Now, the Rangers don’t have the finest prospect pool in the world, but one thing they have made a point of doing over the past several years is drafting solid goaltenders. Igor Shestyorkin has been tearing it up with SKA St Petersburg in the KHL, Brandon Halverson has made it to the Hartford Wolfpack in the AHL along with Magnus Hellberg, Mackenzie Skapski is currently with the Greenville Swamp Rabits of the ECHL, and finally they have two NCAA goalie prospects in Tyler Wall of UMass-Lowell and Adam Huska of UConn. Given the bright future in net for the Rangers, and given the way Raanta has sustained his solid play these past two seasons, is it time for the New York Rangers to sell high on Antti Raanta like they did on Cam Talbot?

To get into the nitty gritty of it, let’s take a look at the two goaltenders’ respect save percentages by low, medium, and high danger chances, comparing Raanta’s current season to Talbot’s 2014-15 campaign. That season, Talbot posted a low danger save percentage of 98.4, giving up six low danger chances on 376 faced. Raanta meanwhile, this season has saved all but four of his 227 low danger scoring chances faced, for a LDSv% of 98.24. While Raanta is just a tick below where Talbot was, and every goal does indeed count, it’s safe to say that when facing low danger chances their two seasons are pretty much similar.

Things get a little more exciting when you move on to medium danger chances, in goalie statistics as in hockey more generally. For 2014-15 Cam Talbot, in his role filling in for Henrik Lundqivst gave up 22 of his 282 medium danger chances faced, for a MDSv% of 92.2. Meanwhile, Antti Raanta this season has given up 17 of his 207 medium danger chances faced, for a MDSv% of 91.79. Here we see the divergence between Raanta and Talbot grow slightly, although it is worth noting that when dealing with goalie statistics the difference between a great goalie and a not so great goalie is often what seems like a small number. 

Next up we’ve got the real fun stuff: high danger scoring chances. In the year he won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award for his impeccable Henrik Lundqvist impersonation, Cam Talbot gave up 33 high danger chances out of 218 or a HDSv% of 84.86. Along those lines, Antti Raanta has given up 19 of the 120 high danger scoring chances he’s faced this season, a significantly smaller number than the amount Talbot faced but still good for an 84.17% high danger save percentage.

Obviously these numbers deserve some context, so to provide that we’ll start off with the most basic context there is – the average shot distance faced by Talbot and Raanta in their respective seasons is 30.87 and 30.61 feet. To compare the two goalies to the playing field however, GSAA provides some further context: in the 2014-15 season Cam Talbot’s GSAA was 13.64, while Raanta’s this season is 5.57. So Talbot’s audition for a starting role really was a standout performance, although Raanta’s performance so far this season is nothing to sneeze at.

So once again, a Rangers backup is outperforming their role – the big question is whether or not they should sell high. While it’s possible that Raanta gets picked in the upcoming expansion draft, given the chance that he makes it, there may be a market for the Finnish goalie. Kevin DeLury of the Sports Daily’s New York Rangers blog recently raised the point that Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News has recently reported that the Stars are likely to buyout at least one and potentially both of their goalies, going on to mention Raanta as a possible replacement. DeLury also brings up the report that Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey mentioned Raanta as a potential target for the Colorado Avalanche if they decide the Semyon Varlamov era is over. 

It’s of course still possible that Raanta gets picked up by Vegas, but given that there’ll be other big name goalies available come expansion draft time, if the Rangers do retain Raanta they’d do well to move him to a team looking for help in net. What exactly they’d get for him is beyond my knowledge, but I’d imagine less than Ben Bishop given the difference in Raanta and Bishop’s reputations league-wide. One way or another this happy problem all speaks to Benoit Allaire’s prowess as a goaltending coach, with the Rangers’s impressive backup situation year after year being the icing on the cake that is a decade of excellence from one of the greatest goalies of all time.

All stats are as of March 20, 2017.