The wait is over. The new guy will play for the Blackhawks! There was even a short video confirming that he’d play for Chicago this season, and the message immediately went viral.
The lingering question now is, what does this mean for Chicago Blackhawks‘ goalie, Kevin Lankinen? Will he still have a shot as a number one? Bringing in Marc-Andre Fleury, for basically nothing, answers a lot of questions, but only for the 2021-22 season. Beyond that things aren’t clear.
Chicago chose to protect Lankinen in the recent expansion draft. The team clearly values him, and his abilities. He beat out Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia for the top spot. Then Chicago brought in Fleury.
At 36-years-old, Fleury isn’t exactly in the prime of his career, although he is the defending Vezina winner, so… he’s still got it. He’s under contract for just this one season, and when that expires he’ll be 37-years-old. That’s just about retirement age for professional athletes. He’s won the Stanley Cup several times, won the Vezina trophy for being the top goalie, and won a William Jennings Trophy, also for being an outstanding player. Basically, all that’s missing is an Olympic Medal. If he plays well this year and stays healthy, he’ll probably have a shot at being on Team Canada.
All of this is to say, Lankinen is going to be taking a back seat in the net this year. Despite last year being a competition to determine who was the number one, Chicago’s brass clearly didn’t see enough to simply hand the starter’s role to Lankinen. The actual impact on him will probably be very minimal, at least as far as playing time.
Last season, Lankinen played in 37 games, posting an unimpressive SV% of .909. If 2021-22 does indeed play out like a normal season, then it would be reasonable to see him get about 25-30 starts, and Fleury would get the rest of the games. The real change has to be with regards to Lankinen’s future with the Blackhawks.
After 2021-22, Lankinen will become a UFA. Even though he proved himself more capable than his opposition, he only won a backup role. That’s probably not what he was after, nor what Chicago wanted to see from him. With Fleury onboard, there will be some competition between the two, and Lankinen will need to demonstrate that he can take another step. Otherwise, it seems reasonable to think that Chicago may not consider Lankinen a capable “1A” option in the crease.
Does this mean that Lankinen could be traded, or even test the open market as a free agent after the season is up? Will Chicago try and offer Fleury a couple more years to develop the team’s next starter? If Lankinen steps up his game, would Chicago consider dealing Fleury to Pittsburgh to help him end his career where he’d previously had so much success?
Chicago has one goalie under contract after 2021-22, and it’s Arvid Soderblom. That’s it. If Lankinen is going to be a Blackhawk after this season, then he’ll have to make a case for himself to be extended another contract. The arrival of Fleury means that Chicago wants to be a better more competitive team than they have been and that if Lankinen wants to carry the team to Stanley Cup glory, he’ll need to step up his game.