Raanta convinced the Coyotes he could be a No. 1 goalie
Kevin Epp has a vested interest in pumping his clients’ tires. Even so, the agent for Antti Raanta couldn’t help but marvel at the Coyotes goaltender’s performance over the second half of this season.
“It has been remarkable, and even more so since we started talking contract after the trade deadline,” Epp said Friday after Raanta and the Coyotes agreed to a three-year extension with an average annual value of $4.25 million that could keep him in Arizona through the 2020-21 season.
“It’s hard for any player to block that out but then to not only play well, but almost elevate your game as the contract talks started, that’s where I think I have been most impressed with Antti’s mental toughness and his desire and will to be the best.”
The Coyotes acquired Raanta and center Derek Stepan from the New York Rangers on June 23 for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. All season, Raanta stated a single ambition of proving he could consistently play like an elite, No.1 goalie, but lower-body injuries, a concussion, a scorpion infestation in his home, and a car accident derailed his focus and limited him to 47 games (46 starts) including the season finale on Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks.
“It was a frustrating, crazy first year in Arizona,” Raanta said. “Hopefully we can find a great pest control for years to come and don’t need to battle against the scorpions any more.”
Raanta admitted there were and are things he needs to do to take better care of his body.
“It was a growing process for me, playing lots, being the No. 1 guy,” he said. “It’s a big mental adjustment from being a backup to start playing more. I kind of found a good balance between when I was playing and when I had time to practice. I felt like I was doing lots of right things in the game but I think the biggest thing was doing the right things in practice when you have the practice time.”
Once he settled into that groove after the new year, the Coyotes posted a 20-13-7 record. Since Jan. 1, Raanta is first in the league in save percentage (.942) and goals against average (1.83) among goalies who have played at least 15 games. He is tied for second with three shutouts.
“I came here and I got the chance to get lots of starts and I wanted to show everybody that I can do that,” he said. “It was a tough first half of the season for sure with all the minor injuries and setbacks. After that, when I got myself going, the team started to play better and better every night.
“My biggest goal was to give us a chance to win every night. There were a few games where I felt that I couldn’t make that one extra save and steal the game, but of course, the second half of the season has gone really well and I feel like I have made the difference in the games and been able to make that one extra save to get us the wins. That’s a great feeling to have when you’re a goalie.”
Both Raanta and general manager John Chayka noted that there were several contract options on the table, but the three-year term ended up working best for both sides.
“A lot of these goalies that have had good numbers in a smaller body of work as a starter, they don’t typically hit the big deal, the home run,” Chayka said. “They have these types of almost bridge-type contracts. If Antti is able to sustain this for another couple of years, we’re probably right back at the table and the number is significantly higher.”
Chayka said that Raanta’s injury issues this season and his elite play when he was in net were two of the multiple factors that weighed into the deal.
“It all goes into it,” he said. “What we looked at is a body of work whenever he’s been in the net. Whether it’s as a backup, he’s been successful at stopping pucks at the NHL level and that’s been every year. He’s been a good goalie in the NHL.
“For us, there was some buy-in from the sense of players believe in him and play well in front of him and we were able to close out games and win games. He kind of earned their trust and respect from the coaching staff to the players. That means something for sure.”
Epp said the three-year deal could work out well for Raanta.
“We could have went longer but if we went longer we might have given away some upside if he continues to play the way he has this year,” Epp said. “In the future, he might have felt that he had taken less than what he could earn in the future.”
Raanta said it was a relief to get the deal completed before the season ended.
“Going back home, you don’t need to think about that any more. You can start looking forward and you can plan what you want to do in the summer,” he said. “I felt that three years was a good number. Obviously, you would want to make eight-year deals straight away but it’s not always that easy. I’m going to be 32 when this deal is done so I feel there might one more big deal for me and that’s the plan to move forward.”
Raanta said he sees a bright future for the Coyotes.
“The big thing is our young guys have improved so much this year,” he said. “There are always some growing pains in the process. We lost lots of games early in the season and lots of those losses came in the last 10 minutes in the third period. Figuring out what it takes to win in this league and what it takes to play under pressure, getting the right plays in the right time was huge for our young group.
“I think the mindset in our team changed also from the first to the second half. We didn’t any more go into the games when we were hoping to get something. I think we went into the games and we knew that we could win the games and that’s what we have been doing the second half.”