PHILADELPHIA – The Blackhawks took care of two of their restricted free agents, signing forward Ben Smith and backup goaltender Antti Raanta to two-year deals on Friday.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Smith’s deal had a salary-cap hit of $1.5 million per season while Raanta’s carried a $775,000 hit per season.
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said earlier this month that he wanted to get Smith and Raanta signed this offseason. He didn't waste time.
The 25-year-old Smith found a steady place in the Blackhawks’ lineup this season, usually on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger. He had 14 goals and 12 assists in 75 regular-season games and added four goals and two assists in 19 postseason contests. Smith, a regular part of the lineup after struggling a few years to get to this point, said he just wants to improve off these levels.
“That’s been my goal throughout my career, from college to professional, and even this season — just trying to improve and be better, trying to do more for the team,” Smith said at the team’s season-closing meetings on June 3. “That’s something for me; I want to continue to grow and mature as a player and help this team get to that level that we were at last year and find a way back to the level that we want to be at, and that we were so close to this year.”
Raanta, 25, wasn’t expected to see action as early as he did in the 2013-14 season, but an injury to Corey Crawford in November got him into the lineup. He finished the season 13-5-4 with a 2.71 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage. Raanta struggled down the stretch but the experience, some of his first on North American ice, proved valuable.
“It’s not the easiest part to be the backup goalie, but if you work hard and if you can get your game better and better every day, I think someday you’re going to the No. 1 goalie also,” Raanta said earlier this month. “You have to start from the bottom, so we’ll see what happens and I’m going to wait… to start working with Crow again and battling with him all the time and not giving him anything free.”