Stan Bowman

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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Stan Bowman lays out big-picture plan for Blackhawks

Stan Bowman lays out big-picture plan for Blackhawks

ST. LOUIS — The NHL trade deadline has passed, and the Blackhawks sold off two key pieces from their roster who were on expiring contracts to recoup some draft picks and prospects to their pipeline. They had no choice if neither player were going to be part of their long-term plans.

The return was underwhelming, largely because of how the market played out. But that isn't the real problem. The problem is the fact the Blackhawks are in a position where they subtracted from the roster because they're at risk of missing out on the playoffs for a third straight season.

GM Stan Bowman met with the media in St. Louis before Tuesday's game and was asked to provide an outline of the big-picture plan going forward.

"The biggest thing in today's game is having young players play an important role," Bowman said. "The last couple years, we've picked in the top 10. We hadn't picked there since we picked Patrick [Kane in 2007]. So, I think that's where you get some of those high-end players. The challenge is to try to get as many as those as you can and then build from that way out. Luckily, we still have some other established players that are difference-makers.

"But to answer your question simply, the way you become a really dominant team is you have some high-impact players and you need to have as many of them as you can assemble, but they're not easy to come by. Certainly hard to trade for. I guess it happens rarely when they become available. You typically have to draft them or develop them. Maybe trade for them or sign them as free agents. When you're signing a free agent, unless it's a European guy, they tend to be older and they might have some good years left, but their best years are probably behind them. There's no shortcut to it other than drafting and developing those players, so, then the question is how do you acquire those? And that's what we've been trying to do.

"We've been trying to acquire either young prospects or draft choices that we can use to hopefully find that next group. And then there's a little bit of a lag where you have to allow them to develop. Some of them. Obviously, Kirby [Dach] is the exception to be able to come right in. Usually it takes a little bit of time. Adam [Boqvist] it took one year. Now he's already in the NHL. For defensemen. That's a pretty quick ascent to the top. But we have to have a little bit of patience for those players to have time to develop. But you need to have those high-value assets and we're trying to get as many as those as we can."

To summarize it best: the Blackhawks are in a "lag" period.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still at the top of their games at age 31, Duncan Keith has a lot of hockey left in him and Corey Crawford is showing no immediate signs of slowing down. Alex DeBrincat is part of that second wave and you figure Dylan Strome is too. Dominik Kubalik is playing his way into that conversation, as well.

And then there's Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach, both of whom broke into the NHL as teenagers this season and have the highest ceilings to turn into elite difference-makers. The challenge is balancing patience in their development while helping them get to their prime level as quickly as possible so that it coincides with whatever high-level years of hockey Kane, Toews and the other core veterans have left.

RELATED: Who will Chicago's goalie duo be next season?

Surely, there will be conversations within the organization over the offseason about the direction of the Blackhawks. Kane hopes the players can provide input to some degree.

"I think it's good to ask the players what they think, to be honest with you," Kane said. "We're the ones who are playing every night. We see what's going on in the locker room. We see who's tough to play against in the league. What teams are tough to play against. That would be a good road to go."

Bowman said he doesn't believe it's necessarily fair to bring the players into the decision-making process but admitted the leadership group has earned the respect to have their voices heard based on what they've accomplished in Chicago.

"If we knew exactly what the future held then you could have that conversation but it's just a lot of guesswork on everybody's part as far as nobody knows what our team's going to be year to year," Bowman said. "You have a plan on what you're doing but then life happens, and things change. You have to have the willingness to adapt to what's in front of you. So, I think that's why their job is to play hockey and they're very good at that, and we let them do that.

"The other stuff, you might have conversations in the offseason more so. Day-to-day, talking to players about the management of the team, that's not the way sports work."

The Blackhawks are taking a long-term approach to their retooling process and it's difficult to predict when things are going line up to the point where they’re not only battling for a playoff berth, but becoming perennial Stanley Cup contenders once again. Are the Blackhawks on board with that?

"I mean, that’s the goal," Toews said. "Anything less than that is disappointing and frustrating."

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The trade deadline signaled the Blackhawks' present and where their future is headed

The trade deadline signaled the Blackhawks' present and where their future is headed

It was clear after the recent road trip in Canada - where the Blackhawks went 1-4-0 - that they'd be sellers at the deadline. It was even clearer when defenseman Erik Gustafsson was held out of Friday's 2-1 overtime win over the Nashville Predators and didn't join the Hawks on their current road trip for precautionary reasons. 

After seeing them fall further in the standings and get whatever they could for Gustafsson and goalie Robin Lehner ahead of Monday's deadline, it's painfully obvious that win now is a mentality of the past. 

The Hawks traded Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights in a complicated deal.

Chicago sent Lehner to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Martins Dzierkals, a 22-year-old unsigned draft pick. Lehner and Dzierkals were then traded to Vegas, netting the Blackhawks goaltender Malcolm Subban, defenseman prospect Slava Demin and Vegas' second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Lehner, 28, was a Vezina Trophy finalist last year with the New York Islanders and was 16-10-5 as a Hawk this season with a 3.01 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and zero shutouts.

The Hawks also traded defenseman Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames for a third-round pick. Gustafsson was having a down year after producing 60 points last season. Rookie Adam Boqvist had been taking his role on the power play's top unit as well. 

Both Lehner and Gustafsson become unrestricted free agents this summer. 

For Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, this past deadline was about getting what he could for players who could walk in the offseason. 

"The draft and the young players are the life blood of your team and you're trying to balance the present with the future," Bowman told NBC Sports Chicago in an exclusive interview after the deadline. "Certainly, when you trade players away, it's hard to do and I understand it's a challenge and you have to make some hard decisions, but when you choose to do that and go down that road I think you have to bring back more than one piece that can help you in years to come. 

"We feel good, that getting a second and a third and a prospect is going to help take us where we need to get to over the coming years."

The moves and the comments signal where the Hawks are now, rebuilding - not rebuilding entirely - but collecting picks and young players for the future who will play with and learn from veterans like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford, who have plenty of good hockey left in them. 

Rookies Dominik Kubalik (forward), Kirby Dach (forward) and Adam Boqvist (defenseman) have all had strong debut seasons with Chicago and look to have a big impact on the future. Kubalik, the most impressive of the trio, leads all NHL rookies in goals with 26. 

"I think the long-term picture looks much better," Bowman said. 

As hard it was to fathom the Hawks not adding pieces to make another run at the deadline for two straight years, it may be even harder to be a patient spectator of the remodeling. 

The Hawks could sell more assets for a brighter future in the offseason as well. 

The good news is that help is on the way, and that some of the veterans who've always been able to lend a hand never left. 

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