What's the future in net for the Blackhawks?
For years, there has been little doubt between the crease in Chicago. It's been 10 years to be exact; that's how long Corey Crawford has been the anointed #1 for the Blackhawks.
For the first time in 6 years, Crawford has become a free agent, fresh off his 6 year, $6M AAV deal. A deal that has made him and his family very wealthy with a couple of Stanley Cups along the way. So there is no surprise the calm and modest Crawford says that he wants to be the #1 guy still and money is secondary.
We've heard that before though in professional sports and even as recent as 2015 with Brandon Saad who said he'd take less to stay in Chicago.
Well, Corey is in a bit of a different situation as he's at the end of his career with a family that's only known Chicago. Listening to his year-end presser on Monday, it truly does sound like he will stay in Chicago if he's all but guaranteed he's the #1 guy and will play a lot. They'll figure the money part out.
If you missed it, here is Corey discussing his future in Chicago (courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks):
Full transparency, I thought we would be talking about Robin Lehner and his new multi-year extension with the Blackhawks at this point. When Stan signed Lehner last summer, it made perfect sense for this to happen. Lehner is younger, proven, and (reportedly) wasn't going to cost the Hawks an absurd amount of money.
The Hawks re-upping Lehner didn't change my feelings at all for Crawford. I still think the dude is one of the best if they the best Blackhawks' goalie in franchise history. It was more of a business and hockey decision. Which the Hawks sometimes aren't good at separating from their own emotions with their past heroes.
Instead, Lehner was moved, and Corey went on a run. After an understandably shaky start when hockey returned, he settled in and looked incredible.
Now, the position the Hawks are in is to move forward with Crawford for another 1 to 2 years. He's the best option for them financially and from a chemistry standpoint. Also, the dude appears to be ok getting peppered with shots every game. All he asks for is "to play a ton".
Well, that's not going to be an issue, Corey because there really isn't anyone else in the system.
Therefore, I'm confident that the Hawks and Crawford's camp will come to an agreement around the 2-year, $4M AAV or 3-year, $3M AAV range.
But what (or who) is the future in net?
Corey will serve as a nice stopgap as the core remains very productive and the young guys try to catch up fast enough to create a winning formula. It'll be tough and the outlook is that this team will probably be fighting for a playoff spot next year.
I know Crawford wants to play a ton and there's no reason he shouldn't for as long as he is keeping the Hawks in games. I think the backup at this stage should be someone the Hawks want to explore as a viable Corey-replacement though.
Rather than bringing in a guy like Cam Talbot or Brian Elliott would irk me when you have internal options that you haven't explored yet in Delia, Lankinen, and/or possibly Subban.
Crawford is a student of the game and a true professional. Look at how guys like Scott Darling and Antti Raanta thrived behind #50. Someone like Collin Delia would be a sponge around Corey to the point where I believe Crawford's value to the organization at this point – outside of his play on the ice – would be his stewardship for the "next guy". Maybe it's Delia, maybe it's Lankinen, or maybe some random dude they bring in from Europe this year. Who knows?
Assuming Crawford is signed as I outlined above, let's see what the future could hold in Chicago:
* Internal Candidates: I've already mentioned them a bit, but the internal guys to look at for Crawford's backup would be Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and possibly Malcolm Subban.
My choice is Delia is you asked me right now, but I'm intrigued by Lankinen. I would like to see the 25-year old Finn play more in the AHL.
Subban is a long shot, but he could be brought back and the Hawks tell those 3 guys to "battle it out."
My only concern is that if Crawford was to get hurt, the Hawks have another Forsberg/Glass/Berube year.
* Free Agency: To eliminate another Forsberg/Glass/Berube year, the Hawks may opt to grab a veteran backup or a guy that they can stash in Rockford.
I've already stated my displeasure for the former to happen, but if the Hawks wanted to bring in an insurance policy like a Louis Domingue/Andrew Hammond type to play with Lankinen and Tompkins, then I wouldn't be terribly upset. However, at that point, you might as well just have Subban down there with those guys.
* Trade: If the Hawks don't see an internal candidate that they are comfortable with, they could very well trade for one.
The name that continues to pop up is Alexandar Georgiev, however, I do think it's the Rangers hope to keep him to play with fellow counterman, Igor Shesterkin. They just need to figure out the Lundqvist situation.
If Crawford is signed, I see a trade very unlikely unless Crow was to get hurt and the Hawks didn't feel comfortable with Delia and Lankinen taking over long-term.
* International Delight: The Hawks could also dip into the European market again. They have been successful in the past with Antti Niemi and Antti Raanta and now have the Kevin Lankinen.
There is still the mysterious Ivan Nalimov out there that the Hawks have the rights to. He almost got a taste of NA hockey when he signed an AHL deal but wasn't able to get a game in with Rockford as COVID hit. He could very well be brought over to platoon with Lankinen and Tompkins as well.
* Draft: Then there's the option that Yaroslav Askarov is available at #17. I doubt he will be and even if he is, the Hawks don't take goalies in the first round. He would immediately put an end to the question I'm asking in this blog; he would be the future.
Right now, I can't see that happening, but I wouldn't be shocked for Hawks to snag a goalie in the draft this year in the 2nd or 3rd round. Jan Bednar and Joel Blomqvist are a couple of names to watch. Hey, Crawford was taking in the 2nd round, maybe one of these guys could be the future… eventually.
You see the many options the Hawks could go this season and beyond to find that Crawford replacement, however, all signs are pointing to them not needing to replace him just yet.
#50 is still playing at a very high level and will continue to do so for next season and possibly for the remainder of this next 2-3 year contract. He is going to be 36-years old this December though, and time is-a-tickin'.
My choice? I go with Crawford and Delia this year and give them a 50-20 split. Where did those other 12 games go? Well, I also want to see Kevin Lankinen at the NHL level – granted he's proved himself in the AHL.
I think you need to see what you have in those guys. They obviously saw something in Delia when they committed to a 3-year, $1M AAV deal a couple of years ago. He is now 26-years old and at times has been one of the best goalies in the AHL over the past 2 seasons.
Lankinen is 25-years old and showed his high-end skill when he dominated last year's World Championship tournament.
That's my short-term move.
Long-term? I have no idea. It's just as murky as before I started this blog. I would like to see how the draft goes in October and then we'll go from there.
What are your thoughts? Are you cool with Corey being the guy for the next couple of years? Should they draft Askarov if he's available? Or should they trade for a guy like Georgiev now?
Stay safe and see ya out there!