Coming into the 2021 season, the Chicago Blackhawks had no answers at the goaltending position, only questions. This aligned with the rest of the team that was going into a youthful rebuilding phase. After letting Corey Crawford sign in New Jersey (where he eventually retired), trading away Robin Lehner the season prior for a bunch of scraps and a draft pick, they were left with four unproven youngsters.
In a recent, “Laz and Powers” podcast, Mark Lazerus of The Athletic stated, “They have done really well playing the youth with the goalies and the forwards.” Have they really done a good job of seeing just what they have with the young goalies? I would strongly argue that they have not, or they only have to a lesser degree.
The player with the most NHL experience was Malcolm Subban, who was a throw-in to the Lehner deal to even out the number of goalies on the roster. He was a former first-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins and was not able to nail down a backup role anywhere he has been. In fact, Subban became a bit of a lightning rod for hate in Vegas due to his complete lack of consistency. He was statistically one of the worst goalies in the entire NHL at the time of the Lehner trade.
The second in line was Collin Delia, maybe one of the most underappreciated players in the entire Blackhawks system. A free agent out of Merrimack University, he was a Hobey Baker nominee in 2015 with former Blackhawks Nick Schmaltz and Tyler Motte. Delia earned a contract out of prospect camp after showing some real athleticism in the summers of 2016 and 2017. He made his NHL debut in 2018, then getting his first start (and win) in the infamous Scott Foster game, and then was sacrificed to the gods of no defense with Cam Ward in 2018–19. Despite playing behind the worst defense in the entire league for 16 games, he put up a respectable .908 save percentage. Due to the surprise signing of Lehner in the summer of 2019, Delia was relegated to Rockford once again, which led to the 24-year-old being named an AHL all star for his solid play with the IceHogs.
Unfortunately, Blackhawks Head Coach Jeremy Colliton’s unreasonably short leash this January eventually banished Delia to goalie purgatory.
It is hard to believe now but, in January, Kevin Lankinen was the least experienced and third in line. He had some success in the 2018 IIHF World Championships and was also named an AHL all star in 2020, but no one had any idea if his style would translate. He had never played an NHL game. Realistically, no one could predict he would step in and play .930-plus hockey for the first third of the season. He has won the starting position and there is no debating this.
The biggest wild card (and least probable option) was Matt Tomkins. He was a draft pick way back in 2012 and has been toiling around between the AHL and ECHL since 2017. His stats have not been anything special, but one would assume that if the organization was willing to spend a decade developing a prospect, they expect the final product to be more than a marginal AHL/ECHL tweener.
Fast forward to April where the Blackhawks over-performed so well early on that they have been able to hang on to some very improbable playoffs hopes. They have learned quite a bit about the status of the kids in the organization, but Colliton seems to have cut off his nose to spite his face regarding goaltending by hitching his wagon to just Lankinen and Subban. Not that both have not played well, but could Delia or Tomkins be a solution as an NHL backup? Could they be moved for assets? No one knows because the “great communicator” stopped communicating with his goalies and just left them off on shame island.
Over-performing or not, the goal and focus of this season should never have changed from auditioning the kids that can compete at the NHL level. All of them. After the first 10 games, Delia still had better statistics than Subban and Lankinen, yet the door was slammed shut on him after two rust-filled games for no apparent reason.
Two damn games!
Two games in the first four where even Subban gave up five goals per game, as well. There is simply no justification for icing Delia out of the lineup. His save percentage was better than Subban.
Conventional wisdom and Delia’s previous NHL success should be enough to tell you that he could definitely be a serviceable option as a backup. This was supposed to be a “play the kids and see what you have got” year with forwards and defensemen, but, after Lankinen and Subban, have they done that with the goalies?
It is time to see what everyone has, including the goalies. We know Lankinen has won the starting spot, and Subban has played well, but, in a transition year, you need to know what the rest have as well.