When Robin Lehner was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the NHL trade deadline, you knew the Blackhawks were going to ride Corey Crawford down the stretch as long as they were mathematically in the playoff hunt. And that's exactly what happened.
Malcolm Subban, who was part of the package coming back to Chicago, logged only 70 seconds of ice time in a Blackhawks sweater prior to the March 12 pause after being called upon for a brief relief appearance. But his role could be expanding in a significant way ahead of the NHL’s Return to Play tournament.
Crawford has been absent for the first three days of training camp after being ruled "unfit to play," which has opened the door for Subban to potentially serve as the Blackhawks' starter for their qualifying round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers if Crawford isn't ready.
"It could end up being the opportunity of a lifetime," Subban said. "For me, it's just taking it day by day and continuing to work hard and making sure I'm ready if I get an opportunity."
Head coach Jeremy Colliton made it clear on Day 1 that it will be an open competition as the Blackhawks prepare for the possibility of life without Crawford. Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tomkins will have as equal a shot as Subban to make their case, with all four rotating in and out with the NHL regulars' group during camp.
"We have a situation now where we’ve talked about it being open competition for a spot, whether that’s the starting position or the backup when we start come playoff time," Colliton said. "I think the work ethic from all of those guys has been good and that makes us feel good about the preparation they’re doing to take hold of that opportunity."
But Subban may have a slight leg up on the competition. He was one of only four Blackhawks — along with Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander and Patrick Kane — who participated in Phase 2 of voluntary workouts at Fifth Third Arena from start to finish and has the most career starts (60) among the four goaltenders.
Despite all that, Subban still feels like he has a long way to go before getting his timing right. He's taking full advantage of every practice session with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite and ironing out the fundamentals of his game because coaches weren’t allowed on the ice during Phase 2.
But Subban is slowly working his way back into form and getting more comfortable with each practice.
“We were skating for three or four weeks and I thought I was back on the little small things,” Subban said. “And then got out with Jimmy for the first time and realized I still had a lot of stuff to work on. But just getting out there and trying to correct those little bad habits that form and also getting back into game shape. Every skate will help.“