The Blackhawks backup goalie plan has clearly been jotted down in a No.2 pencil (see what I did there?).
As per Scott Powers of The Athletic, the Blackhawks have reached out to the agents of Carter Hutton and Jonathan Bernier during this free agency courting period.
As quiet and misguiding as Stan has been with the Corey Crawford situation, he has been more direct in the plans for evaluating and improving the goaltending situation as a whole; that would mean adding a strong(er) backup goalie.
With names like Calvin Pickard and Michael Hutchison were names originally tossed out as the type of potential options to play behind Crawford, this has morphed into something bigger/scarier.
I say scarier because the Crawford situation (and I am calling it a situation) is growing more and more concerning as the summer goes on. Why has he not been on the ice yet? Why can't Stan or Q give a straight answer?
The fact of the matter is that Corey Crawford has been the backbone of this team for the last 3 years as he personified a 23-man life preserver in the sea of a sinking team.
Underrated on his best day, Corey Crawford was and has been one of the top 5 goals in the league over the last few years.
The Blackhawks 109 point season in 2016-17 was a mirage and Crawford was that delicious jug of ice water in the desert.
So, when he down last year, yes, it really hurt the team. It did finally highlight a lot of other areas of weakness though. Like the depth and overall team defence. The latter was partially the reason Crawford's multiple understudies looked so bad at times.
The Hawks used (wait for it) Anton Forsberg, J.F. Berube, Jeff Glass, Colin Delia and, who can forget Scott Foster last year in net. Foster was a cherry on top of the disastrous season for the Hawks.
The season snowballed downhill after an amazing opening game that saw the Hawks thump the Penguins 10-2. From there, we know how it all played out.
If you watched the Hawks closely last year, I don't need to throw too many stats at you. I will say that the Hawks 3.10 GAA (23rd in the league) needs to obviously improve. The league average was around 2.80 GAA, so let's aim to get back there.
Options... who can help?
Let's look to see what's out there on the UFA market (ranked from highest salary last year down):
1 – Lehtonen
2 – Halak
3 – Lehner
4 – Mrazek
5 – Ward
6 – Bernier
7 – Lack
8 – Chad Johnson
9 – Hammond
10 – Pavelec
12 – Hutchison
13 – Hutton
14 – Zatkoff
15 – Brossoit
First, ask yourself, which one of the above guys can improve this club better than Forsberg (the Blackhawks default backup for this exercise)?
Ok, I'll play along; 1-6, 10 and 13 on the list above is my answer.
Now, secondly, how much are these guys going to cost you?
Scott Powers had in his article that both Hutton and Bernier would be approx. $3.1M per year over 2-year contracts. Those might be a little steep for the Blackhawks. Then again, what's the cost of having another season like last year if Crawford goes down?
Let's pivot for a second and now look at which teams around the team around the league need goalie help. This will help evaluate the who the Hawks are competing against, as well as set a benchmark for these goalies in terms of quantity and quality of desperation… errr… I mean demand.
Goalie? Who needs a goalie?
Who needs a starting goalie?
* Buffalo (looks like Linus Ullmark will be challenging for this role but they need a starter to bring him along)
Who needs a 1B/backup goalie?
* Boston (will they re-sign Khudobin?)
* Detroit (Howard is still there but is unreliable these days)
* Carolina (some may argue they need a starting goalie as well)
* Columbus (Korpisalo's up-and-down season may have them looking)
* New York Islanders (they need a partner for Greiss)
* New York Rangers (Hank is the man, but they need a solid backup to lessen his load)
* Pittsburgh (I don't think Casey DeSimth is that guy)
*Washington (this one is a maybe because I think Samsonov may be their backup next year)
* Dallas (with Lehtonen finally off the books, they will be wise with their next signing)
* St. Louis (Hutton is gone and now they need a solid replacement to be a 1B next to Allen)
* Calgary (Mike Smith is bound to get hurt so a strong contingency plan is a must)
There are a total of 12 teams above. Some may stay put, others may add, but that would be my guess on current openings. So if the Hawks want to jump on one of the above improvements, they will have some competition there.
What's on the Trade Market?
Sure, the Hawks could make a trade to upgrade and there have been whispers of Darling (at a reduced salary) coming back to Chicago in a trade that would include Justin Faulk.
The issue with that is that the Carolina is looking to deal Faulk before his M-NTC kicks in on July 1st. So this trade would have to happen very soon and unless Cam Ward is resigned by the Hurricanes, that leaves them in a vulnerable position with 0 goalies on their active roster and thus having to get really aggressive on the free agent market.
Philadelphia could be interesting as well as both Neuvirth and Elliott only have 1 year remaining on contracts south of $3M.
Craig Anderson has requested a trade, but he's got a couple years left and is 37 years old. Oh, and he carries a $4.7M cap per year.
Is it possible the Hawks stay the course with Forsberg and company?
I would say it's very unlikely at this point. With what I'm hearing and the specific names surfacing, it's believed that the 1B/backup goalie position has vaulted up the priority list.
Is that due to Crawford's health? Or maybe the Hawks aren't going to be as aggressive on acquiring and/or signing a defenceman?
My speculation is that they will add a veteran goalie, defenceman (at least 1) and look to add 2 forwards (C and LW).
I have been told that they are exploring bringing in a goalie that has specific experience in stepping in for a long period of time if needed. That's why you're hearing names like Hutton and Bernier.
Building off of that, from what I've heard there are a lot of conversations happening right now. It's obviously a busier time than normal for the Hawks front office considering the amount of cap space and roster spots up for grabs.
They are looking at A LOT of options right now and doing their due diligence talking to a lot of agents.
What would GM JL do?
I'm glad you asked. Well, I don't have all of the details on situations like Corey Crawford's health, but I am reading between the lines on that one.
I'm stuck a little because I don't think it's 100% fair to all of last year Anton Forsberg. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time of his career. I think he does have the potential to be a very good goalie.
However, I don't think you can go into next year with the uncertainty in that position. This team needs stability from the net out.
I expect Hutton and Bernier to be a little too pricey for the Hawks, so I would look to sign Cam Ward or Jaro Halak to a 1-year deal if possible. Then you see how Crawford rebounds and are not locked into a longer deal.
If one of those types of guys is signed, I don't think you have any other option than to trade Forsberg in a deal. He does have some value as a former Calder Cup winning goalie, at 25-years old and 45 NHL games under his belt.
I would greedily like to keep him and have his stashed in Rockford for a rainy day, but the Hawks have high hopes for Colin Delia (and want him playing), as well as getting recently signed Kevin Lankinen some games in North America (he could head to ECHL I guess), J.F. Berube (I heard there might be a mutual parting of ways here) and Matt Tomkins (ECHL fodder).
Something has to give there.
Heck, no wonder Ivan Nalimov has requested a trade as he is watching this all unfold from his house in Russia.
I will state, regardless of whether then sign a higher profile guy (like Hutton), veteran help (like Ward) or stick with Forsberg, they will need to vastly improve their dedication and personnel on the defensive side.
We will all find out on Sunday (or sooner barring a trade).
See ya out there!