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What are the Blackhawks doing with goaltender Anton Forsberg?

Chicago hasn’t used its other goalie once this season.

Chicago Blackhawks v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As of Monday morning, there are six teams in the NHL that have used only one goaltender this season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have only played three games and used 2018 Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy each time. The New Jersey Devils are 3-0 largely because backup Keith Kinkaid is 3-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage while filling in for an injured Cory Schneider. The Edmonton Oilers have stuck with Cam Talbot for their three games and the Minnesota Wild have used Devan Dubnyk in their four games, the goalie they’ve ridden to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. And the Arizona Coyotes have used Antti Raanta in all four games, the goalie to whom they’ve committed a long-term contract.

And then there are the Chicago Blackhawks, who’ve used 34-year-old Cam Ward in all five games they’ve played, despite Ward’s grisly numbers: 4.07 GAA and .879 SA%. Since the Blackhawks have used one goalie for more games than any other team, even though that goalie has posted worse numbers than any of the goalies listed above, it begs the question:

Why hasn’t Anton Forsberg played yet this season?

Yes, Forsberg struggled at times in his first sustained NHL action, posting a 10-16-4 record with a .908 SA% and 2.97 GAA in 2017-18. There were some highlights, though, with two 31-save performances in 3-1 wins against the Boston Bruins (March 11) and the New York Islanders (March 24).

Forsberg’s 2018-19 NHL season didn’t start well, with the 25-year-old Swede getting injured during the morning skate before Chicago’s first game of the season Oct. 4 in Ottawa. It wasn’t significant, but it did require Chicago to recall Collin Delia from the AHL to back up Ward that night.

Forsberg appeared slated to start against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday, but coach Joel Quenneville opted to use Ward for the second night in a row and the third game in four nights, citing the need to maintain momentum when asked by reporters.

And Forsberg was injured during practice again last Tuesday:

But Quenneville later said Forsberg’s issues that day weren’t anything serious. Still, it was Ward in net Thursday against the Wild and again Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.

At a major crossroads?

Goaltender Corey Crawford could be returning Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes. Quenneville said, earlier this summer, that he won’t carry three goalies on the active roster. Crawford will take one spot and Ward has a no-movement clause that prevents him from being sent to the AHL, which makes Forsberg the odd man out.

But in order to send Forsberg down to the AHL, he’d have to clear waivers first, and there’s no guarantee that a 25-year-old goalie with limited NHL experience but a strong AHL background could mean the Blackhawks would lose him for nothing. And perhaps that’s the reason why Chicago has never played Forsberg this season: to prevent him from a stellar performance that would have him on NHL radars if he hit waivers.

Should Forsberg clear waivers, sending him to Rockford only clogs the Hawks’ goalie pipeline. Delia was stellar for the IceHogs last season and also turned in a strong performance against the Winnipeg Jets before leaving with an injury, a detail lost in the hysteria of the Scott Foster game. With Delia being just 24 years old and starting last season in the ECHL, a full year as Rockford’s No. 1 goalie is crucial for his development — and a platoon with Forsberg doesn’t appear to make sense for either goalie.

Looking long-term, there may be no room left for Forsberg

This is the only explanation I’ve been able to reach. With Delia’s emergence last year, and with Delia being one year younger, he may have already supplanted Forsberg as Chicago’s goalie of the future. It’s not hard to envision Delia spending this season in Rockford, then being Crawford’s backup next season, and then taking over the starting job in the 2020-21 season after Crawford leaves free agency that summer. Chicago also has Ivan Nalimov, Wouter Peeters and Alexis Gravel in the system, which means there are options beyond Delia.

It keeps looking more likely that Forsberg won’t be part of the Blackhawks organization for much longer.