VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s been a wild ride for goaltender Andrew Raycroft, going from a can’t-miss rookie in Boston to being booed unmercilessly in Toronto.
Raycroft, an unrestricted free agent who agreed to a US$500,000, one-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, said it’s all been a learning experience.
The former Calder Trophy winner expects to be a backup to Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo. It’s a role he played last year with the Colorado Avalanche where Peter Budaj was the starter.
“There has been some rough patches,” Raycroft said in a telephone interview from Boston, where he and his wife are expecting the birth of their first child. “I think I learned a lot last year, especially at the start, not playing nearly as much as I thought was going to be the case going in.
“Coming into this year, I think I have a much better idea what I need to do on a daily basis to stay fresh and stay sharp. In that respect, I feel much more confident and much more comfortable than I did going into last season.”
The Canucks also re-signed restricted free-agent defenceman Shane O’Brien to a $1.6-million, one-year deal.
The Canucks now have 20 players under contract for next season worth $51.6 million. The NHL salary cap is $56.8 million.
Raycroft, 29, knows Luongo is a workhorse who normally plays over 70 games a season.
“Lui is the top goalie in the league,” said Raycroft. “He’s going to play when he feels good. I understand that. I am well aware of that.
“Whenever you get the call you have to play well. Practice becomes very important. You look back and there are a lot of teams that have had a lot of success and needed someone to fill in at times and pick up the slack, whether it’s injury, or fatigue or a random night in January. Every team needs a second guy who can play. I look forward to having that chance.”
Raycroft was named the NHL’s top rookie in 2004 after posting a 29-18-9 record with the Boston Bruins. In 57 games he had a goals-against average of 2.05.
Since then he’s struggled to regain that magic. The Bruins traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in June 2006. Raycroft had a decent first season in Toronto, posting a 37-25-9 record in 72 games, but his game went south the second year.
Raycroft signed as a free agent with Colorado last year. He earned $800,000 and had a 12-16-0 record, 3.14 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.
In his eight NHL seasons the six-foot, 185-pound native of Belleville, Ont., has played 230 career NHL games. He has a record of 94-96-16, with six shutouts, a 2.90 GAA and .899 save percentage.
Raycroft said compared with NHL superstars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, he’s had “a pretty typical hockey career.”
“Most of the people we hear about are the ones that come in when they are 18 and are leading the league in scoring when they are 20 and they are around for 20 years,” he said. “For the majority of us, that’s not the case.
“Every year, every day, every month is a work in progress. You want to be around and work hard every day and get better.”
The Canucks needed a backup after goaltender Jason LaBarbera signed a two-year, free-agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes last week.
O’Brien, 25, could have gone to arbitration but decided to sign a one-year deal instead that gave him a raise of around $600,000 raise.
“I was never a big fan of arbitration,” said O’Brien, who had 10 assists and 196 penalty minutes in 76 games with Vancouver last season. “I just didn’t want to go into a room and sit there and argue with the GM of my team.
“I wanted to get it done and focus on me as a player.”
The Canucks obtained O’Brien in a trade from Tampa Bay in October. The six-foot-two, 225-pound native of Port Hope, Ont., has played 234 regular season games, scoring six goals, adding 41 assists and collecting 526 penalty minutes.
O’Brien’s goal this season is to improve his offensive numbers.
“I’m never going to be an offensive guy, but I think I can contribute more offensively,” he said. “Hopefully I will get a little bit more of an opportunity this year with ice time.
“You have to earn your ice time. If I get a little more ice time I can contribute a little more offensively and continue to be a real solid in my own zone and be tough to play against.”
Signing Raycroft raises questions about the future of goaltender Cory Schneider in Vancouver.
Schneider played for the Manitoba Moose last season where he was named the league’s top goaltender.
Canuck GM Mike Gillis could decide to trade Schneider. He also could have Schneider start the season as Luongo’s backup with Raycroft going to Manitoba.