When news broke that Roberto Luongo would be out of action due to a hairline rib fracture, Canuck Nation collectively were ready to hit the panic button. But thankfully, Andrew Raycroft has since pulled everyone back from the ledge with his solid play. Raycroft’s performance in the games he has started since Luongo was injured has given Canucks fans all over a newfound confidence. Last year Luongo missed a total of 24 games when he tore a groin muscle in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Over that span the Canucks went 9-12-3 as Curtis Sanford, Jason LaBarbera and Cory Schneider all saw some action. Overall, the Canucks held their own in Roberto’s absence but definitely had a large amount of room for improvement.
This summer Mike Gillis signed Raycroft as a free agent netminder this summer and it raised a lot of eyebrows. Most had considered Raycroft a bust despite winning the Calder trophy in 2004 as the outstanding rookie of the year. That season Raycroft backstopped the Boston Bruins to 29 victories while holding a save percentage of .926 and GAA of 2.05. The next year was the NHL lockout and Andrew Raycroft landed with Tappara Tampere of the Finnish SM-liiga. He appeared in 11 games, winning four of those games. When the NHL resumed in 2005 Raycroft was nowhere the goaltender he was before as he won just 8 games out of 30 with the Boston Bruins with a 3.70 GAA and .878 save percentage.
Raycroft was eventually traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the rights to Tuuka Rask. Things did not improve for Raycroft in Toronto despite a decent first season that saw him pick up 37 wins in 72 games. Things got worse in 2007 when Raycroft was relegated to the backup role when the Leafs acquired Vesa Toskala from the San Jose Sharks. Raycroft appeared in only 19 games that season while winning just 2 of them. He was subsequently bought out by the Leafs and promptly signed a 1-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche as a backup to Peter Budaj in hopes of getting a clean slate. But yet again, things did not go well for the 29-year old Belleville native as he won just 12 games in 31 appearances with an .892 save percantage and goals against average of 3.14.
So jump to this past offseason, Jason Labarbera signed a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes while Curtis Sanford left to join the Montreal Canadiens. This left the Canucks with their 2004 first round draft pick, Cory Schneider, as their only option as a backup to Luongo. As a result, on July 6th, Raycroft was offered a contract by GM Mike Gillis and signed the 1-year deal with the Canucks. Reaction around the hockey community was mostly of confusion or mockery, particulary from fanbases of the Maple Leafs and Avalanche who had seen how poorly Raycroft had played on a regular basis. But after five starts, the ones getting the last laugh are Mike Gillis and the Vancouver Canucks.
Andrew Raycroft has compiled a very solid record of 4-1-0 in Luongo’s absence. He also leads the NHL with a 1.60 GAA and is tied for first with a .936 save percentage.
Has Raycroft regained the form that saw him win the Calder trophy 2004? Only time will tell as it is still just five games but he is off to a great start. Raycroft has given Canucks fans the confidence in the backup goaltender that has been missing since Alex Auld was still a Canuck. Auld, of course, was a part of the trade with Florida that involved bringing Luongo to Vancouver. Dany Sabourin, Curtis Sanford, Jason Labarbera and Cory Schneider have all tried and have not been able to perform as well as fans would have liked. Raycroft came in this summer with low expectations and has far surpassed those expectations. What happens from here is left to be seen, but surely should Luongo struggle or once again get injured, Canuck Nation will not need to hold their breath.