Raycroft Looks For Clean Slate

Please join us at Canuckscorner.com and welcome Philip Yoe to our writing team. In his first contribution he looks at the contributions of Andrew Raycroft, and how the goaltender is aiming to get his career back on track with the Canucks.

By Philip Yoe: Canuckscorner.com

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.

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Andrew Raycroft

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.

Calm, Cool & Collected – Gillis leads by example

As training camp gets set to open officially tomorrow morning at UBC when players report for their physicals, we’re starting another year of Canucks hockey here at Canucks Corner. 13 years have gone by and we’re still kicking, entering our14th year of Canucks hockey on the internet. I’m pretty excited about the coming year not only for the site, but the team on the ice. There is a real buzz in Vancouver, and it’s a little different than it has been in the past.

Fans are starting to buy into the Canucks regime that is lead by the calm cool and patient Mike Gillis. With a summer full of big hurdles to overcome, Gillis handled them all with the quiet confidence that has become his trademark as the leader of the organization. Signing the Sedin’s and getting Roberto Luongo signed long term were no easy tasks for any GM to face going into the off-season. Then he goes out and dips into the thre free agent market adding Andrew Raycroft for depth in goal, Mikael Samuelsson up front and adding Mathieu Schneider, Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich to an already deep blue line corp.

He has youngsters Sergei Shirokov, Michael Grabner and of course Cody Hodgson among others vying to crack the roster, and a young blue chip goaltender in Cory Schneider to use anyway he sees fit and then there is the continued maturation of players like Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.

And if that weren’t enough Gillis is about to extend the contract of coach Alain Vigneault to add even more stability to the club.Vigneault has his fans and his detractors but he and Gillis seem to be on the same page when it comes to building this hockey club, and that’s half the battle.

Yes, heading into camp the Canucks and their fans have a lot of reasons to be excited about. But that’s not to say there still isn’t work to be done. The Canucks will need to whittle their salary structure down by October 1st to get under the salar cap, something Gillis says will be done through competition at camp. Gillis feels this camp is different than the last due to the fact he was new last year and no one knew what to expect from him. Now with his retooling and stabilizing project nearing completion, all players should be entering camp ready to be at the top of their game, or they may not make the team.

With the Northwest division taking a drop off in quality according to many, the Canucks should be in a position to contend for the division and perhaps even the conference. So sit back and get ready for another wild ride. Just try and take it day by day…like our calm cool and collected GM.

Quick Hits:

  • This from Hosea Cheung on Twitter: (@hosea24hours) The Canucks have cut Matthew Ford, Mitch McColm, Bobby Nadeau, and Joe Plekaitis, James Reid, Justin Taylor, and Michael Ward following prospects camp. prior to the start of the main camp.
  • TSN says no Sundin is not negotiating, Sportsnet claims he’ and the Canucks are talking. Here we go again? God I hope not. Either Mats shows up for his physical tomorrow or move on.
  • As I said in the intro I am really excited about the direction this site could be heading this year and the things we have in store working with the Canucks on the Fan Zone at Canucks.com. We have a great group of creative people who are really going to try and do some cool things this season. You’ll have to stay tuned for more, but safe to say if you follow these folks on Twitter you’ll never be out of the loop: @CanucksHockey @mozy19, @Hgiraffe, @vancanucks, @miss604
    @canucksoutsider
    , @johnbollwitt, @crazycanucks and of course follow us at @CanucksCorner.