The Blackhawks have a goalie problem, and no, it isn’t the tandem currently holding down the net. Starting last year, Chicago had a “competition” between three different goalies that had little to no experience in the NHL. Once it was over, Chicago ended up with three different netminders, but only one that looked positioned to stay in the NHL. Those other two joined the organization’s other goalies, and there’s the rub.
They were sent down to the Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. If you hadn’t seen how things played out last year, Kevin Lankinen beat out Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia for the top honors among the team’s three goalies. Last year, everyone thought that meant Lankinen was going to end up as the starter, but then Marc-Andre Fleury arrived, and “The Flower” is the 1A option in the net.
Chicago now has a respectable goalie tandem, and organizational depth in goal has been sorted. Or has it? This is where things get complicated, and it has nothing to do with the team’s performance over the first 10 games. Rockford has goalies under contract, and this is on top of the goalies Chicago has under contract playing the AHL. Here’s a quick list:
Marc-Andre Fleury, NHL contract
Kevin Lankinen, NHL contract
Malcolm Subban, NHL contract
Collin Delia, NHL contract
Arvid Soderblom, NHL contract
Tom Aubrun, AHL contract
Cale Morris, AHL contract
Am I forgetting any? Drew Commesso doesn’t count because he’s not under contract. That’s seven goalies spread from the NHL down through the ECHL. At some point, something has to give. There are almost certainly conversations being had between agents and Chicago’s management. In particular, because Delia and Subban appear to be on the outs with the Blackhawks.
More importantly for the goalie situation, Soderblom has apparently been given priority over Delia and Subban, and probably by the interim general manager, Kyle Davidson. Stan Bowman “resigned” on October 26, 2021.
Up until the press conference on Sunday morning, no one had heard from Davidson about anything, but he made two small moves. First, he called Isaak Phillips up from Rockford and did so over Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell. A couple of tweets about Soderblom came after. While no one has come out to publicly say that Delia and Subban are being pushed aside by Davidson, that certainly appears to be what is happening.
While he has been a phenomenal talent, Fleury is most definitely at the end of his career. When he agreed to play for Chicago, it was probably under the assumption that the team wasn’t going to be rock-bottom in the league. Regardless, he isn’t the future of the team, and his contract expires this year, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. It would be surprising if Fleury came back.
This is a problem that needs to be resolved for a couple of reasons. First, dividing games between all these goalies doesn’t help anyone. Younger players need to be developed, and that means ice time. If there’s a rotation of several goalies vying for a limited number of opportunities it’s bad for the organization in the long run. Players won’t be able to progress as quickly as the team might want, and no one wins.
Another reason this is a problem is that it’s just bloat for the Blackhawks. An NHL team can only carry so many players under contract. If there are players the organization has no real interest in playing, then they’re just dead weight holding everyone back.
The players aren’t playing as much as they want to, and the team runs the risk of being unable to bring in new talent. Now that the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be a bit less of an issue than it was previously, there’s really no reason to have so many extra goalies. Moving other players between Chicago and Rockford won’t solve the problem.
Since Davidson has apparently been given the freedom to act fully as Chicago’s GM, solving this excess of goalies problem could be a way to kill two birds with one stone. The Blackhawks paid dearly to acquire Seth Jones. Trading away a couple of goalies would be a way to pick up a couple of draft picks or prospects. Honestly, Chicago could use both, and having so many goalies is simply a by-product of the questionable roster-building Bowman is responsible for having engaged in.