Blackhawks

Never say never: Blackhawks won't stop believing until math says they're out

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USA TODAY

Never say never: Blackhawks won't stop believing until math says they're out

The calendar has flipped to April, which means we've reached the final week of NHL regular season. Time is running out for bubble teams to make a run and get in. But at this point those clubs need help, too.

The Blackhawks are six points out of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference with four games remaining. Their odds are down to 0.4 percent, according to hockeyreference.com, and they could mathematically be eliminated from contention by the end of Monday night with a loss and Colorado win.

But until the math says they're out, the Blackhawks will never say never — even if they internally have maybe allowed themselves to think otherwise.

"We’ll take it day-by-day," Patrick Kane said. "We’ve kept things pretty positive for a while here, to be honest with you, and I think we’ve been one of the better teams in the latter half of the year in the league. It’s never fun to be in this position, but obviously there’s a lot to play for tonight to keep our season alive and keep these meaningful games going for us. That’s the position we’re in.”

At the same time, it's hard not to look back at the schedule and point to some stretches and wonder "what if?" 

"At first when you think about it, it's probably easy to say those two eight-game losing streaks really hurt us," Kane said "You do that and you're giving up a fifth of the season where you're not getting any points or winning any games, so that was a tough stretch for us. It seemed like things just snowballed there for a while after the coaching change, and I know Jeremy [Colliton] was implementing the way he wanted to play but we kind of struggled right out of the gate. Once we figured it out we were a lot better. I think right after that it was the toughest part of the year for us."

The Blackhawks, at the very least, have a chance to play spoiler against the Winnipeg Jets, who are fighting for the top seed in the Central Division. But they want to start being on the other end of these meaningful games. And while they still (barely) have a chance, it's important to finish strong and on a positive note.

"We’re playing at home, we’ve got a lot of pride, it’s a big game for Winnipeg," Colliton said. "We technically are still in it. So let’s do our part. Have a great effort. Bring our best game. That’s kind of been what we’ve been saying for a while and that’s all we can do. We want to feel good about ourselves, we want to come to the rink and be happy in the morning. So you’ve got to perform."

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What the Blackhawks goaltending tandem could look like in 2020-21 NHL season

What the Blackhawks goaltending tandem could look like in 2020-21 NHL season

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 we always knew there would be a point when the organization had to make a decision.

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 one more 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. Subban is arbitration-eligible, so, he has some control about how his next contract could look

Crawford is the only one of the group who is set to become an unrestricted free agent and he's the most established of them all. It's no secret that he wants to remain in Chicago and still believes he can be an everyday starter in the NHL.

Crawford's concussion history and the fact that he's 35 years old should certainly be noted when evaluating the future of the position but the Blackhawks should be encouraged by what they have 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.

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 future goalie and allows Crawford to finish his NHL career in Chicago as a starter.

Now, the question 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. He 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. Besides Crawford, he has the most NHL experience of the potential candidates on the current roster but has struggled to take the next step with a career 2.97 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 65 career appearances.

RELATED: What is the Blackhawks' big picture plan?

Another thing to consider is the 2021 expansion draft next summer. Every team is required to make available one goalie 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 about this because the goalies 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 on their mind 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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NHL to potentially discuss emergency goalie rules at general managers meetings

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USA Today

NHL to potentially discuss emergency goalie rules at general managers meetings

The NHL general managers meetings are set to begin next week and one of the topics on the docket to be discussed may be emergency backup goalie (EBUG) procedures. The recent interest in reevaluating EBUG rules come after 42-year-old David Ayres suited up to play for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 6-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs this past weekend.

The issue of EBUGs comes up so rarely that NHL GMs don’t typically give it much thought. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke about EBUGs this Tuesday during the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets game.

“It's something we've given some consideration to over the years. As recently as last year, we discussed [it] with the general managers. It happens very, very rarely, but when it happens, it obviously raises everybody's attention to the issue and whether there are fixes that need to be made to that particular issue,” he explained. “We have to work with the [NHL] Players' Association. Who's a player? Who's not a player? What qualifies all of that? But obviously we want what's best for the game, and we want to make sure people aren't putting themselves in danger by playing goal in a National Hockey League game. ... So that's obviously something we have to continue to work through."

Currently, the 2019-20 NHL official rules state, “if both listed goalkeepers are incapacitated, that team shall be entitled to dress and play any available goalkeeper who is eligible."

Ayres drives the Zamboni at the Mattamy Athletic Center in Toronto and frequently practices with the Leafs. Ayres stepped in the net after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured. He made eight saves and is the oldest goalie in NHL history to make his regular season debut.

The Blackhawks had their own instance of needing an EBUG in 2018 against the Winnipeg Jets. Scott Foster, a then-36-year-old accountant stepped in the net at the United Center after Corey Crawford and Collin Delia were sidelined by injury. Foster saved all seven shots on goal, making him the first EBUG to make a save and a hometown hero in Chicago. 

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