Dude, you were THIS close to Irish Ice Hockey League. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
It's been a rough couple of days around VAN land, but today we'll change it up by giving a shout out to what was once the unlikeliest person to deserve one.
But let's ignore all that and politely give a civilized round of golf clapping (does that phrase take on new meaning with what Tiger Woods did? Nevermind...) for Razor, someone who was dragged over the coals from the moment he put pen to paper to become a Canuck but proved his worth to the team when he was needed - a quality that a couple other Canucks around him are sorely lacking.
Let's rewind to last summer. Many assumed then exactly where we are right now: Cory Schneider would take the next step in his development, shed his AHL training wheels and become a permanent fixture in the NHL as a back-up for Luongo. So naturally some heads had to be scratched when word came down that Raycroft inked a one year deal for essentially nothing.
If you thought we had problems with it, Razor's previous fan bases were having a ball and they couldn't be blamed either. His stats since leaving Boston were abysmal. You pretty much had to assume Gillis either lost his mind or Raycroft was so bad that he could pass through waivers without anyone noticing or caring.
Scraping some thoughts from around the interwebs I posted, at the time, what I thought would happen:
Maybe Raycroft will eek out a win here and there. Maybe he'll steal one in the shootout (assuming the shooter doesn't go gloveside). Maybe, just maybe, he'll simply be adequate.
But let's not kid ourselves with anything else. This isn't a change of scenery move. He's not going to suddenly regain Calder-type status. Certainly not on a team built from the net out and not with one that, as of now, will be entering camp with a weakened defensive core. Only in the cap era would we as fans be asked to accept a player who is this statistically bad, with this much baggage, who has fallen this far from his career highs, simply because no one else wants him.
So what did happen? Son of bitch, first he beat out Schneider for the back-up gig. From there he would go to eek out nine wins in 14 starts, including "stealing" two in the shootout (thank you for not going gloveside Los Angeles & Anaheim). The icing on the cake may have be cathartic victories over the Avs and Leafs (the latter of which was the only time he spelled Luongo and got the win). He also stepped up when Luongo either fell to injury and just plain fell. He even earned himself a ballad.
Assuming he doesn't start tomorrow against Calgary, here's a quick look at how Raycroft's regular season stacks up against all Vancouver back-ups since the lockout:
|Noronen (05–06)||McVicar (05–06)||Ouellet (05–06)||Sabourin (06–07)||Sanford 07–08)||MacIntyre (07–08)||Sanford (08–09)||LaBarbera (08–09)||Schneider (08–09)||Schneider (09–10)||Raycroft (09–10)|
His numbers are comparable to Sanford's last year, but he still earned two more wins with a better GAA and slightly better save percentage, which is saying something since Sanford was playing a healthy Mitchell and Mattias Ohlund (though not Bieksa who was out with an injury). So clearly it's not the most solid bunch, but Raycroft currently sits as the best post-lockout goalie Vancouver has had.
Also - for what it's worth - Raycroft earned more wins this season than his peer back ups on playoff-bound Detroit (Osgood - 7), Phoenix (LaBarbera - 8), San Jose (Greiss - 7), Los Angeles (Ersberg - 3) and Colorado (Budaj - 5).
I don't know if Raycroft will ever be a starter in the NHL again; he's still prone to meltdowns here and there and - in respect to last night - should have slammed that five hole shut on the Malhotra goal, but maybe that's splitting hairs. Being the back-up goalie isn't easy; all that training, day in and night out, staying mentally and physically prepared for that moment the team needs you or the "what if" factor that could happen a million times over in a game. Back-up's probably end up doing more work than starters, much of it out of public view and thankless. And then there's Raycroft, once on top of the hockey world, then laughed out of hockey's biggest market and somehow ended up staring at Vancouver's goalie graveyard.
I was wrong: you can say he was good, decent or just less sucky than he had been, but he wasn't merely adequate. He did his job and then some. Sure the bar was low to begin with, but he pulled his career out of the nose dive and helped the Canucks in the process. If Luongo has to be pulled for whatever reason during the first round, I'm ok with Raycroft out there. Just the fact I saw myself type that out is remarkable.