It was a competition that turned out not to be a competition at all for the Blackhawks. One of the main storylines entering the 2020-21 season was that Chicago parted ways with Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Corey Crawford. In his place was going to be a rotation/competition of three largely untested players. The results were mixed.
It goes without saying that there’s no reason not to keep Malcolm Subban on the Chicago Blackhawks. He, along with Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen proved they belong in the NHL but didn’t necessarily prove they were ready to be the top guy in the net. That’s OK. Chicago needs a reliable backup as well. Subban barely played (16 games), but when he did it was as extreme a spectrum of ability as one could get.
His numbers weren’t bad, and he even had a couple of shutouts.
At times he had some poor rebound control, and he let in soft goals. At other times he made show-stopping saves and did everything he possibly could to keep his team in the game.
Overall, Subban’s game isn’t bad. There are a couple of things that stand out to me after seeing him play in his 16 games with Chicago. (I did actually watch all these games.)
First, his career save percentage is .899 and for his 16 games with Chicago, it was .900. I’m not the best with advanced metrics, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that what we saw from Subban this year is probably more or less what he has to give. If you look at his career numbers, his save percentage is pretty consistent. The best season he had was in 2017-18 where he posted a .910 SV%. That’s not starter material, but it is consistent.
Second, Subban was drafted in the 1st round in 2012. Goalies taken in the first round are rare. Watching him play you can see why people would have thought he had that kind of value. Some of the saves he’s capable of making are simply incredible…
…, but he’s now on his third team. He’s not meeting the lofty expectations people had of him, and that’s unfortunate. What’s odd though is that he’s only played 82 games in the NHL since his first match in 2014-15.
In Boston, he wasn’t going to take the net from Tukka Rask. In Vegas, he was playing behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Once the Golden Knights acquired Robin Lehner there was no room for Subban. Chicago seems like a good fit for Subban because he wants to play, and there is an opportunity for him to compete for a spot on the team. He’s no longer backing up a world-class netminder, and he can make plays most other goalies can’t.
Third, Chicago can’t keep three goalies much longer, if at all in the NHL. There are too many guys in the system at that position already. Someone needs to go and that may be sorted out in the expansion draft. If it isn’t though, Subban is at the very least an excellent option as a backup. Even when he sat game after game after game, he jumped right back into things and didn’t look rusty at all. That’s a great quality to have in a goalie, and even if his SV% could be better, he’s always ready to go.
It’s not necessary to read between the lines to say that I think Subban should come back and keep playing in Chicago. Lankinen passed him up on the depth chart almost immediately, but Subban is a solid player. Just like a true Stanley Cup competitor needs a number two center to step in if the top guy is out, the same holds in the net. Subban can fit that role nicely for Chicago, and probably at a very reasonable contract. If Bowman decides that he’s seen enough of Subban, then so be it.
His numbers weren’t spectacular, and everyone would understand the decision. However, Chicago acquired him when they traded away Robin Lehner. The team probably wants him to succeed and after Lankinen, he played more than Delia. Should Chicago keep Subban in the organization? Yes, if he’s not in Seattle, then there’s a role for him to play with the Blackhawks, absolutely.