The Blackhawks experimented with the net during the 2020-21 season. Rather than keep longtime netminder, Corey Crawford, or bring in another veteran, Chicago went with three largely untested goalies for the duration of the regular season. Now that everyone has seen the results of three-man rotation in goal, it’s entirely possible that once free agency begins Chicago could bring in a veteran.
Overall, the goalie experiment went better than expected, but expectations were very low for standings. It’s not realistic to think that the Chicago Blackhawks will be satisfied with long-term mediocrity, nor should they be, despite the down years being important for the team’s overall success. While the trio of Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban, and Collin Delia was better than expected, none of them was truly good enough to prove that they were a clear number one goalie.
Lankinen showed the most potential to step up and be the best of the three goalies. He also played more (37 games) than both Subban (16 games) and Delia (6 games) combined. If any of these three were going to the future of the team, then it’s likely Lankinen. The problem is that his numbers don’t stack up against the best netminders in the league. Chicago needs to find a way to push Lankinen to greater heights or bring in a veteran starter.
Bringing a starter on a short-term deal could be a great way to make the team a little bit tougher to play against, as well as push the other goalies to really be at their best. It’s healthy competition, and it’s a completely reasonable way of achieving greater success as a team. Not to mention, there are often decent goalies on the market that can be signed as free agents.
An area where this might be a problem is with the large number of goalies already in the organization. After Lankinen, Delia, and Subban there are other guys in the system. There’s Arvid Soderblom, as well as the goalies in Rockford, Cale Morris, Tom Aubrun, and Ivan Nalimov. (Matt Tomkins recently signed in Sweden, so he’s actually gone.) But wait, there’s more! While he probably won’t be available for a couple of years, Drew Commesso is also in the pipeline. That’s a lot of goalies, especially when you consider that the draft is around the corner and Chicago may pick someone else.
There’s a difference between healthy competition and overdoing it, and it isn’t exactly a fine line. With seven guys in the organization, Chicago has options, but probably too many. Bringing in a veteran goalie might make sense in some respects, but not others.
However, even if Chicago doesn’t expect to realistically compete for the Stanley Cup in 2021-22, the team is still coming out to win games. General Manager Stan Bowman has to consider keeping guys like Patrick Kane happy, and another so-so season without an appearance in the playoffs isn’t going to sit well with him, or other established veterans on the team.
A more experienced goalie would probably help the Blackhawks win more, but maybe wouldn’t be the best thing for the organization as a whole. If you’re trying to develop talent in-house, you don’t go out and sign an older veteran that is going to take games from less-experienced players.
Additionally, if Chicago picks another goalie early in the draft, competition will be bordering on extreme. Is this for the best? What’s more, the more tenured players in Chicago won’t like risking another lost season, but at some point, the team needs to transition away from their older star players. A few bad seasons might be a necessary evil, and a veteran starter won’t change this.
It’s pretty easy to make a case for the team going either direction, but it’s too early to really make that choice. The expansion draft for Seattle (7/21), the NHL’s entry draft (7/23-24), and free agency (7/28) are all set to take place just over a month from now. By the time free agency opens up, Chicago will be making moves to finalize next year’s roster, which could very well include yet another goalie.