Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman did what he said he would do Monday — re-sign center David Kampf and sign a player in Ryan Carpenter that improves the penalty kill and is defensively sound.
But then Bowman did something unexpected by signing goaltender Robin Lehner, who is coming off a career season in which he finished third in Vezina Trophy finalist voting as the league’s best goalie. As Bowman noted during his teleconference with the media, goaltenders with a season like Lehner’s are rarely available so he signed him to a one-year, $5 million contract.
What does this mean for Crawford’s future? He shouldn’t be the starter anymore.
Now, calm down. Let’s explain.
Lehner, who turns 28 years old on July 24, was 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts in 46 games. His goalie partner, a 33-year-old Thomas Greiss, was 23-14-2 with a 2.28 GAA and .927 save percentage in 43 games. That’s about an even split as you’ll fine among NHL goaltenders and earned the duo the Jennings Trophy as the team with the fewest goals allowed.
Crawford is coming off back-to-back seasons where he’s missed considerable amounts of time with two concussions. He has one year left on his contract at $6 million before he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent. By developing a tandem system like Islanders head coach Barry Trotz did with Greiss and Lehner, the Blackhawks can keep Crawford and Lehner fresh for a dynamic 1-2 punch that Bowman called “the best in the league.”
“Speaks volumes to how the Blackhawks hope to manage Crawford next year, too, which is absolutely a positive,” goaltender expert Cat Silverman of The Athletic and In Goal magazine wrote on Twitter. “They have the cap space, reasonable player to use it on.”
She added, “Think a lot of people may look at the Lehner signing as evidence that the Blackhawks have lost faith in Crawford, but think it’s quite the opposite. Tandems are the way of the future, and it’s almost weirder to me now when teams *don’t* try to establish one at a good cost.”
And guess what? She’s right, and a tandem system shouldn’t only be limited to the NHL level as the Blackhawks should adopt it for its AHL affiliate in Rockford.
Prior to the Lehner signing, Collin Delia was set to be Crawford’s backup. Delia was called up last December after Crawford’s second concussion in less than a year and proved his worth by going 6-2-3 with a 3.61 GAA and .908 save percentage in front of a dismal defense. For his efforts, the Blackhawks signed him to a three-year, $3 million extension. With Lehner signing and Delia being pushed back to the AHL, the Blackhawks should have an elite duo with Delia and Kevin Lankinen. The 24-year-old Lankinen was the breakout player at the World Championship, with a 1.50 GAA and .942 save percentage to lead Finland to a gold medal.
Rockford head coach Derek King juggled Delia, Lankinen and Anton Forsberg — who was traded to Carolina in June — last season and the IceHogs came seven points shy of a Calder Cup playoff spot. Delia and Lankinen splitting the load will create healthy competition between the two and give them one more year to develop with what should be an improved team in front of them.
With Crawford’s contract coming up after next season, there seems to be four options:
- Re-signs on short-term deal
- Signs with a new team in free agency
- Traded prior to free agency
For Lehner, it’s a one-year “prove it” contract that he’s betting on himself to show last year is the norm for him. If it truly is, the Blackhawks can re-sign Lehner and have Delia or Lankinen as their other NHL goaltender for 2020-21 season. If Delia outshines Lankinen, who also has one year left on his contract, the Finnish netminder could also be traded prior to next year’s free agency period as well.
No matter how you slice it, Bowman has set the Blackhawks up for success and security in net for the future, now let’s see if the team’s overall defense can help them out.