Mandatory Credit: Michael Ivins-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Belfour, Jocelyn Thibault, Jeff Hackett, and Nikolai Khabibulan. From 1990 to 2008, these four goalies were more than likely going to spend 60 minutes between the pipes for the ‘Hawks (with the occasional Steve Passmore or Michael Leighton appearance). With the exception of Hackett and the early days of Belfour, the Blackhawks were more than willing to spend money on a big name goaltender, or even a goalie with the name Cristobal Huet. Though those names above performed respectably, it became very hard to justify their salaries based on individual performance and the team’s performance.
In recent years the ‘Hawks have become a place for goalies to flourish, with perhaps two exceptions in Marty Turco and Huet. The 2009-2010 season started with the aforementioned Huet as the starter, but by the end of the season, it was backup Antti Niemi anchoring the Stanley Cup champion squad. Niemi was signed away by San Jose, which led to management paying Turco to come in and help defend their title, even though Turco had a bad reputation for his postseason performances or that he was almost on the wrong side of 35. His play and inability to stay healthy gave a relatively unknown Corey Crawford his chance. Crawford took advantage, parlaying his opportunity into a starting role, a contract extension, and the team’s second Stanley Cup title.
Crawford’s backup from last year, Ray Emery, who has spent much of his career struggling for playing time, performed so admirably last season that he was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers to compete for the starting job next year. Since 2010, the team has changed the career paths of three goalies, and that list doesn’t include former backup Craig Anderson, who after leaving the team in 2007, has become one of the better net-minders in the league for the Ottawa Senators.
Which brings us to the Blackhawks latest project at the goaltender position, 24 year-old Antti Raanta. After signing with the team in June, it was believed the Raanta was going to make an immediate impact with the club, especially after all of the rave reviews he received from scouts and other NHL management-types.Raanta will be given more time to develop certain aspects of his game, whether it’s overseas with his Finnish league team, or within the team’s minor league system. Either way, the emphasis on developing goaltenders has grown and is obvious in the results they have received from the likes of Niemi and Crawford. Raanta will have time to learn the tricks of the trade as the ‘Hawks just signed a reputable backup who is somewhat familiar with the organization, Nikolai Khabibulan.