Hawks bring back Antti Raanta, Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin

Written By By Mark Lazerus Staff Reporter Posted: 07/29/2014, 06:22am

PHILADELPHIA — Antti Raanta could have gone back to Europe and cashed in. Heck, he probably could have coaxed a few more dollars out of the Hawks had he played a little hardball.

But all he wanted to do was stay in Chicago. So when the Hawks offered him a two-year contract extension worth an average of $750,000 — less than he even made as a rookie — Raanta jumped at the chance.

“Money is not the biggest thing right now,” Raanta told the Sun-Times by phone from Finland. “I’m just 25 years old. There’s still hopefully plenty of years left in my career, so I can make some money later on. You can always think you can get a little bit more money, but I think we got a really good deal.”

The Hawks also negotiated two-year extensions with their other two restricted free agents — forwards Ben Smith ($1.5 million a season) and Jeremy Morin ($800,000) — locking up three young players for barely $3 million.

Raanta will make $700,000 this coming season, and $800,000 in 2015-16 to back up Corey Crawford in goal. After being thrust into the starting role in November when Crawford was injured, Raanta went 11-1-3 with a 2.27 goals-against average. But he played just nine games the rest of the season as Crawford shouldered the load, and finished 13-5-4 with a 2.71 GAA and a .897 save percentage.

“I’m really excited to come back and show what I’ve got,” he said. “The last half of the season, I wasn’t too happy with myself. I’m just preparing to be even better. I want to show everybody what I’ve got.”

Dream come true

The Hawks traded up in the first round to select playmaking center Nick Schmaltz, a lifelong Hawks fan from Madison. The Hawks were slated to pick at No. 27, but with the St. Louis Blues — who drafted Schmaltz’s brother, Jordan, in the first round in 2012 — at 21, the Hawks moved up to No. 20 to take him, swapping the 62nd pick for the 179th.

Schmaltz had 18 goals and 45 assists in 55 games with Green Bay of the USHL last season. He played five seasons for the Chicago Mission, driving five hours round-trip three days a week. He’s slated to attend the University of North Dakota next season, and hopes to turn pro after two or three years.

“I think my game fits right into their style of play, and I think that was the best fit for me,” said Schmaltz, whose favorite player is Patrick Kane. “That’s what I wanted the whole year. I dreamed of being a Blackhawk, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Coaching change

Coach Joel Quenneville said that he had fired goaltender coach Steve Weeks after one season.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus

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