The Blackhawks are preparing for Corey Crawford to make his season debut this week after recovering from a concussion since Dec. 23, 2017, when he last made his appearance between the pipes.
That means a decision has to be made on Anton Forsberg, who's serving as the backup to Cam Ward but ranks third on the organizational depth chart in goal with a healthy Crawford. The challenging part of the situation is that Forsberg requires waivers if the Blackhawks want to try sending him down to the American Hockey League and keep him within the organization. But it's beyond his control.
"I have no idea and I don't want to think that way either,” Forsberg told NBC Sports Chicago. “I just want to be focused on getting better every day and try to work hard and put in the work, so hopefully when [my chance] comes, I've done everything I can.”
There are several layers to this, mostly questions: Can the Blackhawks find a trade partner for Forsberg? Would he clear waivers if he's put on there? And if he does, what happens to Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen, both of whom the Blackhawks are looking to take next steps in their development?
One thing is for certain: The Blackhawks do not plan on carrying three goaltenders. But maybe that’s an option for the short term until they see how Crawford handles the load since they have a six games in nine days stretch starting on Thursday.
“Organizationally, he’s one of our group of goaltenders,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Forsberg. “That’s where it’s at. We know the importance of depth in that area is always going to get challenged over the course of a season and we know the importance of the position. We’ll see how that plays out.”
In any profession, it's hard not to think about your future when there's uncertainty regarding your position. But Forsberg is trying to block all that out, no matter how difficult it may be.
"Sometimes it is, but at the same time it's the life of hockey,” he said. “Everybody has been, at some point, in their career probably in that situation. At the end of the day, it's always about yourself and how you can get better and all that. So that's what I'm trying to do.
"I try to come in here every day with a smile on my face. Hockey is the best thing in the world, so I just try to come in here and have fun and do my job. That's it."
If Crawford is ready to return on Thursday, that probably means Forsberg will be placed on waivers Wednesday. If he does get claimed, Forsberg must be on the NHL roster for at least 10 games and/or 30 days before being eligible to go through the waiver process again. So he cannot be stashed in the minors if claimed by another team.
That means his fate really depends on whether an NHL team is in need of an everyday backup goaltender.
"I really have no idea,” Forsberg said of whether or not he believes he would get through waivers. “It all depends on the situations and other teams, where other teams like me, I don't know. I don't want to focus on it. I just want to do my best right now to be prepared for whatever happens."
The Blackhawks have played five games, all five went to overtime, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each have five goals.
So here are five things we've learned from the Blackhawks first five games:
1. Blackhawks have a flair for the dramatic
They are the first team in NHL history with 5 straight overtime games to begin a season. According to Elias, It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL. Not only have they not lost a game in regulation, but they have rallied in the third period in four of their five games. No final period rally was more dramatic than the home opener, when Kane and Auston Matthews had a three-goal trade-off in a 56-second span, complete with a celly battle.
2. Toews looks like a different player
Or should I say, he looks like the guy who played a huge role in three Stanley Cups. The captain is faster, hard on the puck and making plays that we haven’t seen in the last few years. His nine points are tied with linemate Alex DeBrincat for the team lead and amongst the top point getters in the league. Toews said before the season that he was humbled by missing the playoffs and it’s clear he heard the criticism about his lack of offensive production. Hard work this summer and solid chemistry with DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun have paid off in the first two weeks. Toews said he wanted to get back to having fun and so far, he’s had plenty to smile about.
3. Power play still needs to be fixed
It was a major issue last season (ranked 28th) and it’s still a concern this year. They have only cashed in on 2 of 18 power plays, which ranks them 23rd in the NHL. I like the 1-3-1 set up and top unit that includes Kane, Toews, Schmaltz, DeBrincat and Jokiharju. They made a tweak last game, putting DeBrincat at the top of the slot and Schmaltz at the left circle. They are hoping to take advantage of Cat’s quick and accurate shot. The other concern on the power play is the entries. They continue to use the drop pass as their primary way to enter the zone. It’s not been very successful this season. They may need to install one more option on the entry. The bottom line, they won’t make the playoffs if their power play ranks in the bottom third of the league.
4. Blackhawks blue line is still a work in progress
Henri Jokiharju has been a tremendous addition to a group that was a major question mark entering the season. Jokiharju is the second best defenseman on the team right now and with Duncan Keith, they are a legit top 4 pairing. The problem with the other two pairs are major inconsistencies. You will see a stretch of solid play, but it’s inevitably followed by a crucial turnover or defensive breakdown. In this loaded Central Division, a handful of defensive miscues could be the difference in making the playoffs or being on the golf course in April.
5. Cam isn’t Crow
Cam Ward has been solid in his first five games as a Blackhawk. It’s actually incredible the Blackhawks are 3-0-2 when you consider Ward has a .879 save percentage and 4.07 goals against average. Unlike last season’s fill-ins, Ward has been able to avoid the dreaded soft goal. It still looks like Corey Crawford could return Thursday against Arizona, or this weekend at the latest, when they play back-to-back tilts. Everyone is crossing their fingers that Crow will not experience any setbacks when he returns to the crease. Joel Quenneville said the team doesn’t like to carry three goalies, but they may be forced to do that, with uncertainty surrounding Crawford and Anton Forsberg having to pass through waivers before being sent to Rockford. Goaltending is everything in the NHL and in all likelihood the Blackhawks postseason chances still hinge on Crawford returning to the form we’ve seen the last several years.