The Blackhawks depth chart for the upcoming 2019-20 NHL season is littered with questions marks among the skaters.
At goaltender, though, the future appears much clearer for the next year. After that, however, a significant conflict arises. Let’s dive in:
Cam Ward (16-12-4, .897 save percentage, 3.67 goals-against average)
Ward’s statistics hadn’t looked that bad since the regular season of his rookie year, although some of that blame can be attributed to the woeful defense in front of him. But any debates regarding Ward at this point feel irrelevant. He came to Chicago on a one-year contract that is now over and there’s little reason to believe he’s sticking around, so let’s not stick around on this topic.
Collin Delia (6-4-3, .908 SA%, 3.61 GAA in NHL; 13-8-4, .922 SA%, 2.48 GAA)
Delia turned in another fine performance at the AHL level this season, although it wasn’t quite enough to lead the IceHogs back to the Calder Cup Playoffs. When he first joined the Blackhawks this season, he dazzled with three straight victories, allowing just five goals on 116 shots against. In his final outing, when he relieved Corey Crawford in the third period against Toronto on March 13, he withstood an incredulous flurry from the Maple Leafs by stopping 26 saves on 29 shots in only 20 minutes.
Delia had less-than-stellar moments, but nothing to discourage from the potential of a goalie just shy of his 25th birthday (June 20). Unless something dramatic shifts within the organization, Delia appears destined to be the backup goaltender next season after signing a three-year contract extension worth $1 million annually.
Corey Crawford (14-18-5, .908 SA%, 2.93 GAA)
The biggest mystery surrounding the Blackhawks this season involved Crawford’s health. He missed nearly 10 months due to a concussion and its lingering symptoms, making his season debut Oct. 18 against the Coyotes. Crawford lost that game but then won his next three, allowing only one goal in each victory and inspiring confidence that he’d returned to his old form. The next two months were ugly, though. Crawford won just twice in his next 19 appearances while the Blackhawks endured a miserable 3-16-3 stretch. And then Crawford suffered yet another concussion Dec. 16 that put him back on the shelf for another two months.
Crawford returned on Feb. 27, and so did the elite goaltender Blackhawks were accustomed to seeing. In his final 15 starts, Crawford posted an 8-4-3 record with a .917 SA% and 2.51 GAA, numbers well above his season-long totals. This stretch was punctuated by a 48-save shutout of the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 16.
After missing almost a full year of hockey followed by some shaky appearances in the end of 2018, Crawford looked like the two-time Stanley Cup champion goalie that the Blackhawks had earlier in the decade. And with Crawford under contract for next season, there’s no debate here: Crawford is the No. 1 goalie for the 2019-20 season. After that, though ...
The road ahead for Chicago’s goaltenders
Crawford’s contract expires next summer and he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. He’ll be 35 then, while Delia will be just 26 and under contract through the 21-22 season at an incredibly affordable cap hit of $1 million. Next season will be a massive crossroads for Chicago’s future. Plenty of Crawford’s understudies have gone on to earn No. 1 roles elsewhere — Antti Raanta and Scott Darling as recent examples. Can Delia play well enough next season to earn the No. 1 spot in the following season? If not, is Crawford going to hang around for another year or two and still play at an elite level? Will Crawford opt to retire? If Delia takes over, would Crawford be interested in a backup role?
The answers at goaltender are obvious this summer. But the water turns murkier in the offseasons to follow.