Goalies are up next in this blog series presenting 2019-20 season reviews by position. The last blog in the series focusing on the coaches will be out on Wednesday.
* Click here to view the season review of defensemen
* Click here to view the season review of centers
* Click here to view the season review of wingers
Although there are less players to analyze, the goalie position is undoubtedly the biggest hole right now that the Blackhawks have to address.
Platooning comes in different forms. It’s one thing to have a platoon system between backup goalies when the starter is out with an injury but it’s another thing when the platoon is of goalies who have track records as NHL starters.
The Blackhawks had an instance of the former circumstance when Jocelyn Thibault went down with a long-term injury in 2003-04 and the platoon consisted mainly of Michael Leighton and Craig Anderson but also saw a few starts sprinkled in by Steve Passmore, Adam Munro, and Matt Underhill.
This past season saw Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner push and support each other as starters. Either one of them could have carried the team had the other gone down with injury which was a projected scenario in Crawford’s case given his injury history the prior two seasons.
* Crawford and Lehner each won 16 games in approximately the same amount of games (32 versus 33) before Lehner got traded.
* Lehner was one percentage point better in save percentage (.918 versus .917).
* Crawford had a significantly better GAA (2.77 versus 3.01).
* Crawford was the only one to pitch a shutout.
At face value, the platoon worked out as expected as both Crawford and Lehner gave the team a chance to win on most nights.
DEFENDING THE NET
When the Blackhawks continue to bleed shots -- especially of the high-danger variety -- that is an evident sign that the goalie needs help defending the net. A goalie is the last line of defense but not the only line. The team defense needs massive improvement or else it won’t matter much who is in net.
The blueliners and forwards need to be better at providing adequate coverage of each opponent on the ice, getting between the opponent and the net, stopping the habit of puck watching, forcing shots from the outside, and clogging passing lanes.
On a related note, many goals allowed were because the goalie’s teammates were creating inadvertent screens and allowing the other team to crash the net uncontested. Yes, the goalie has a responsibility to bark out orders for where his mates need to be or yell at them to get out of the way. However, the players in front of the goalie need to be constantly aware of how their positioning is either aiding or hurting the team.
This doesn’t absolve the goalie from making saves that they need to make as an NHL-caliber netminder. Crawford and Lehner both let in their share of stinkers. Save for the occasional game where a goalie just isn’t dialed in that night, they at least are resilient enough to not get rattled as the game progresses.
That last part is key: resiliency. Can the goalie bounce back after a bad goal and keep the team in it? Crawford has that mettle but what about the other goalies in the system?
Malcolm Subban was the only rostered player who came over in the Lehner trade with Vegas -- by way of Toronto first where the Hawks had RW prospect Martins Dzierkals for a hot second -- along with D prospect Slava Demin and a 2nd round pick in the upcoming draft.
Although there was at least one opportunity in the stretch-run of the regular season schedule where Subban could have played to give Crawford a breather and Hawks brass a chance to see what they had in the newly acquired backup, he never saw game action besides a relief appearance that lasted 60 seconds.
Also during the season, Kevin Lankinen was recalled twice from Rockford to serve as backup. However, like Subban, Lankinen never made it into a game.
Goalie prospect Collin Delia -- who played in 16 NHL games in 2018-19 and 2 games the season prior -- didn’t get recalled to Chicago at all in 2019-20.
Matt Tomkins earned his first NHL contact in late January but has yet to get the call to the NHL. That is to be expected, though, given he is the 3rd string goalie for the Hogs and was on an AHL deal for much of his pro career to date.
Besides one lone minute which is negligible in the grand scheme of things, none of the goalie prospects playing at the pro level saw NHL game action. What’s the big deal about that?
It wasn’t a big deal when Crawford and Lehner were platooning. It’s obvious that one of them would start while the other backed up each game.
So in that case, having Delia, Lankinen, and Tomkins have their own platoon in Rockford was best for their development.
Yet, it was a big deal after Lehner was traded and knowing there was no guarantee that Crawford would re-sign with Chicago this offseason.
One argument is that the Blackhawks were still in the hunt for a playoff seed so it’s best to trot out your best goalie no matter the workload.
The counter-argument is that Crawford shouldn’t have played 8 straight games after Lehner got traded including a back-to-back on March 5-6 versus Edmonton and Detroit. At least give Subban one of those games against the Oil or Wings.
Maybe Subban would have gotten into a game had the season not been cut short by the pandemic. There would have been 12 games left if the shutdown hadn’t happened.
Either way -- whether by design or by happenstance -- the Blackhawks missed the opportunity to see what they had in any of their goalie prospects which is a shame given that the team will need to lean on at least one of them to play in a backup role.
What do we know so far for the 2020-21 goalie situation?
As it stands today, the only goalies signed to NHL contracts are Delia, Lankinen, and Tomkins.
Subban is an RFA. No offer has been made.
Crawford has been offered a one-year contract by Chicago at $3.5M. No decision has been made.
Lehner has also been offered a 5-year contract by Vegas at $5M per season. No decision has been made.
Before and after the Lehner trade at the TDL, there was a circulating hypothesis -- or at least a desire -- by some segments of the fanbase to let him play for a contender then re-sign with Chicago in the offseason.
I for one don’t see Lehner coming back to the Blackhawks as $5M or more as it is too rich for what the team can afford, hence, the $3.5M offer to Crawford and likelihood that they aren’t going to go any higher than say $4.5M no matter the term.
Best guess is that Crawford counters at a higher salary -- again, say $4M to $4.5M -- for one year or 2-3 years at the same annual amount of $3.5M. Who knows, maybe he will agree to the current offer.
The one-year offer at $3.5M to Crawford could be an indicator of the direction the team may be leaning towards in net. If Bowman is firm on that offer and not willing to negotiate much, then the Hawks seem willing to part ways with Crawford and not desiring to invest more than $3.5M on any starter.
It is doubtful that the starter and backup roles will be filled by two of Subban, Delia, Lankinen, and Tomkins. One of them, though, is likely on the roster as the backup. Subban is without a contract so he would still need to be signed.
Then who is the starter at $3.5M?
Looking at available UFA goalies, the range of $3.5M to $4.5M eliminates Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, Anton Khudobin, and of course Lehner. It would be no surprise if at least the latter three re-sign with their current teams.
Instead, the Hawks are looking at the likes of Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, Aaron Dell, Linus Ullmark, or Keith Kinkaid who are all younger than 35. If they go for a veteran who is older than 35 -- ideally on just a one-year deal -- then there’s Brian Elliott, Craig Anderson, and Jimmy Howard.
The other option is a trade. If that’s the route taken, there are two forks the team can take: trade for a veteran or trade for a youngster who has some NHL miles. Trading for a veteran means salary coming in requires similar salary going out so as to not make cap space even tighter.
I advocate for going younger by acquiring a tender with potential like Thatcher Demko, Cayden Primeau, Tristan Jarry, Adin Hill, Mackenzie Blackwood, Sam Montembeault, or Alexander Georgiev.
What would be the price for each of them as far as trade assets and future contracts? Some teams may not be willing to part with their goalie -- particularly Demko, Primeau, and Blackwood -- if they see them as the future in their own net. A trade also has the hazard of creating a new hole just to fill another.
Lastly, there’s the 2020 draft. The problem with the draft is that even the highest rated goalie in Yaroslav Askarov won’t be playing in the NHL next two seasons. That doesn’t solve the immediate problem unless the solution is to wing it with Subban, Delia, Lankinen, and Tomkins until Askarov is ready.
NEWS & UPDATES
Nothing notable over the weekend but hopefully Crawford makes a decision on the contract offer on the table so we see where he stands.
Once Crawford’s situation is decided upon, then the Hawks can make decisions with Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Drake Caggiula, Slater Koekkoek, and Subban.
Trades may start picking up, too. So far there have been 4 trades this summer: Kasperi Kapanen back to the Penguins, Jake Allen and Joel Edmundson to the Habs in separate deals, and Minnesota native Nick Bjugstad heading home to the Wild.
See you on the boards!