#1: Resolve the Goaltender Situation
For the first time since he arrived in Chicago, Corey Crawford is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He had some very impressive performances during this postseason, but also some moments that raised quite a bit of criticism.
His current contract has a cap hit of $6,000,000 per season, however, Crawford is now 35-years-old and has had many injury issues in the past. While Crawford stated that he wants to stay in Chicago, it might be very difficult for him to do so.
If Crawford decides against taking a discount, then chances are that he will not be a Blackhawk next season. The Blackhawks already have $74,146,795 tied up in 19 roster players for next year, and they still need to resign rookie goal-scoring leader Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, and depth forward Drake Caggiula.
Some good news for Chicago is that this free agency class features a lot of goaltenders who are UFAs. While the chances of bringing back Robin Lehner seem even more unlikely than resigning Crawford, there are still many reliable options such as Thomas Greiss, Jakob Markstrom, Braden Holtby, Cam Talbot, and Anton Khudobin.
Another option for Chicago could be to go after Linus Ullmark of the Buffalo Sabres. Ullmark is only 26 years old, and played pretty well in the 34 games he started this past season. While his record was subpar (17-14-3), he had an SV% of .915 and a GAA of 2.69. These are pretty good numbers for a Sabres squad that was inconsistent. His current cap hit is only $1.325 mil, so that would make him an affordable option for the Blackhawks.
He is a restricted free agent, so the Blackhawks would have to give the Sabres some sort of compensation in the form of draft picks. They do have Calgary’s 3rd round pick in this year’s draft that they acquired in the Erik Gustafsson deal, as well as Montreal’s 7th rounder next year.
The Sabres already have Carter Hutton and top goaltender prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in the system coming up, so this means that Ullmark is more than expendable. Buffalo also could certainly use the draft picks to help fix the rest of their lineup.
Of course, Crawford always could come back on a cheaper deal and have Colin Delia or Malcolm Subban as the backup. Delia did look decent in his limited action in the NHL a few seasons ago, and some time to grow in the AHL could have helped his development.
The last scenario that could happen is that the Blackhawks could select top goaltending prospect Yaroslav Askarov in the upcoming NHL Draft. Askarov has outstanding numbers, but chances are that he will be selected before the Hawks pick at #17. If he somehow does slide down in the draft, expect the Windy City to select the youngster.
No matter who ends up playing goalie for the Blackhawks in the upcoming season, it sure will be interesting to see what will happen between the pipes.