Going into the 2019-20 season, the Blackhawks had arguably the best goaltending tandem in Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. But both of them were on expiring contracts and you knew there would be a point where the organization had to make a decision on one or both.
One of those decisions was made at the NHL trade deadline when the Blackhawks traded Lehner to recoup some future assets. But there's still another one to be made.
What will the goaltending duo look like next season?
The Blackhawks have two goaltenders under contract for the 2020-21 campaign: Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins, both of whom are with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
Kevin Lankinen, who was an AHL All-Star this season, is a pending restricted free agent along with Malcolm Subban, who was acquired by the Blackhawks from Vegas in the Lehner deal and is likely to serve as the backup for the rest of the season, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Subban is arbitration eligible, so he does have some control about what his next contract could look like.
Crawford is the only one of the group that's set to become an unrestricted free agent, and he's the most established of them all. It's no secret he believes he can still be an everyday starter in this league and would prefer to remain in Chicago.
Crawford's concussion history and the fact he's 35 years old should certainly be noted when evaluating the future of the goaltending position, but the Blackhawks should be encouraged by what they've seen from him this season. He's gotten better as the season has gone on and should get a bulk of the starts down the stretch, which is the workload he's accustomed to.
All things considered, it would be a win-win for both the Blackhawks and Crawford to agree on a short-term extension. It gives the Blackhawks a couple more years to find or groom their goaltender of the future and allows Crawford to finish his NHL career in Chicago while doing so as a starter.
The question now is, who will be his backup?
The Blackhawks saw enough of Delia to reward him with a three-year contract extension at a team-friendly $1 million cap hit, which kicked in this season. He was expected to be Crawford's backup if Lehner didn't surprise the hockey world by signing with the Blackhawks on July 1.
It should be Delia's job to lose going into training camp because his body of work speaks for itself. He's proved himself at the AHL level. He elevated his game during the Calder Cup Playoffs. And last season with the Blackhawks, he led the team in 5-on-5 save percentage (.925), high-danger save percentage (.866) and goals saved above average (2.96).
Subban is the wildcard. He has the most NHL experience of the four potential candidates on the current roster besides Crawford but has struggled to take the next step with a career 2.97 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 65 career appearances.
Another factor to consider is the 2021 expansion draft next summer. Every team is required to make one goalie available who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his contract prior to 2021-22. The Blackhawks probably aren't a team that has to worry too much about this because the goaltenders in their pipeline have limited NHL experience, but it's still worth noting.
The Blackhawks are in no rush to figure out the future of their goaltending situation, but it will certainly be at the forefront of their minds going into the summer.
"I wouldn't say we've mapped out who it's gonna be," GM Stan Bowman said. "We have a lot of candidates, and we've got to make that choice between now and next season. We have Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, Subban and Crawford. We're going to have to sort through that and look at the options. I don't have that answer for you today, but obviously we don't have a proven NHL goalie signed for next year, so we have to address that before next year.
"That’s something that’ll play itself out over the next few months here leading into the summer. We do have some decisions to make. It’s early to handicap what’s going to happen with the goaltending position. We need time to reset and analyze that."
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