The Chicago Blackhawks have three goaltenders on their roster with multiple seasons of NHL experience. Before the team’s fan convention last weekend, head coach Joel Quenneville said that they will not carry three goalies during the regular season.
Corey Crawford is the clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Chicago, should he be on the active roster and not IR. Cam Ward was signed in the offseason to a one-year deal that includes a no-movement clause which prevents him from being sent anywhere else, including the AHL.
So where does that leave Anton Forsberg?
Let’s address the elephant in the room before we go any further: if Crawford isn’t healthy and misses substantial time or, Hossa forbid, the entire season, then Ward and Forsberg are the team’s two goalies and this article is irrelevant. But let’s continue under the hypothetical condition that Crawford is healthy and able to play the majority of, if not the entire season.
It’s clear that Ward was brought to Chicago as an insurance policy against the health of Crawford. But Ward’s signing, combined with the news that Quenneville won’t carry three goalies, means that there could be no room for Forsberg on the Blackhawks. And if he gets exposed to waivers, there would have to be demand for a goalie who’s only 25 years old with a 1.34 goals-against average and .949 save percentage during a Calder Cup Championship run on his career highlight reel.
Yes, Forsberg did struggle during his first consistent NHL action, which came during the 2017-18 NHL season. His 2.97 GAA and .908 SA% aren’t going to win him any No. 1 spots in the NHL (although they’re not far from Ward’s 2.73 and .906). Forsberg had the kind of up-and-down performance you’d expect from a rookie. There were games like his 31-save performance in a 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins on March 11 or the 42 saves he made in a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators on January 30. But there were also the six starts (out of 30 made this season) where he was pulled in favor of the backup.
Still, there were enough flashes of quality goaltending from Forsberg last season to warrant another chance to prove that he can be a consistent NHL-worthy goaltender. But, now, he may not get that chance. At least not with the Blackhawks.
Don’t just take my word for it: Cat Silverman, a goaltending expert whose work can be found at The Athletic and InGoal Magazine, said the move to bring on Ward was not a reflection of the team’s doubts of Forsberg.
“I don’t think this decision had nearly as much to do with Forsberg deserving this demotion as people are making it out to be,” Silverman said. “The team’s management knows they’re in an incredibly tough spot, and at the very least they got a known entity; not an amazing one, but one that we know can handle a full NHL season without falling below a .900 SA%. Even though Forsberg did just fine last year given the circumstances, his NHL sample size just wasn’t enough for the team to consider him a safe number two and potential number one, given that Crawford still isn’t at 100 percent and most certainly wasn’t on July 1st.”
It’s no guarantee that Forsberg can be a reliable backup at the NHL level. But there’s enough on tape to suggest it’s possible. So carrying just two goalies at the NHL level this season, which could ultimately result in Forsberg heading to another team for nothing in return, feels like a poor way to manage their assets at the game’s most important position.