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The Blackhawks goaltender race has two clear front-runners

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Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen should likely start next season as the battery

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks
Collin Delia of the Chicago Blackhawks minds the net against the Dallas Stars at the United Center
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Blackhawks’ taxi squad may be a 2021 only thing, so it’s likely Chicago cannot carry three goaltenders next season and the Blackhawks will need to settle on two of the three goalies that played in 2021.

Fortunately, two of them separated themselves from the third.

Kevin Lankinen was really good to start the season, even being a member of the Calder-contending pack behind Kirill Kaprizov (who could be back off to Russia next season) at the midseason poll. But he faded off, and finished the 2021 season with the same save percentage (.909) he had in his first AHL season back in ‘19-20.

Collin Delia played just six games — starting five — and missed a wide chunk from the very beginning of the season to the very end. Still, his .902 was about on pace for his career average (.905), despite his very poor showings to start the season against two playoff teams. Delia also led Blackhawks’ netminders in high-danger save percentage at .841.

Malcolm Subban trailed the Blackhawks in both high-danger save percentage and save percentage outright. While he allowed the closest average goals (18.28 feet versus 21.83 for Lankinen, the second-best) and was the Blackhawks’ best shorthanded goaltender by goals above replacement (1.9), Subban’s rebound control became a problem and those low save percentages likely did him in.

To start next season, the Blackhawks should likely turn to a combination of Delia and Lankinen. While Drew Commesso continues to develop in the NCAA and the Blackhawks look for other franchise options for the future, giving the three of them another chance to prove themselves is likely the smartest option. But if one of them must be waived (or exposed in the expansion draft) before the season, it should probably be Subban.

Both Lankinen and Delia represented positive results to the Blackhawks in terms of GAR. Lankinen finished with 3.7 GAR and Delia with 1.6. Subban had a minus-0.8 mark.

Delia faced the most shots per 60 of the Blackhawks’ goaltenders as well as the most high-danger shots against per 60. Yet he fared decently well, coming close to Lankinen’s numbers while facing 3.45 expected goals against per 60 while Lankinen faced 2.67.

It’s hard to take anything away from what is a shortened season for essentially two rookie goaltenders (Delia and Lankinen) and a sophomore effort for Subban. None of these goaltenders played too many games before this season and it was a compacted rookie season for Lankinen. Delia got just six games throughout the year while Subban was passed over for weeks at a time.

The Blackhawks’ biggest takeaway should be who starts the season, but not necessarily who finishes it next year. They still have three goaltenders to look at, and they have the time: it’s not like the team in front of them is a year away (or less) from contention. There is time to figure out, in the upcoming season, who the Blackhawks should go with in future seasons.

But there are also some minor takeaways. Delia seems to be better than his overall save percentage projects and Lankinen may have just run out of steam after 20 or so games. Subban continues to get cold quickly as well. The Blackhawks likely need to do a better job of putting their goaltenders in better positions to succeed next season if at all possible.

It bears mentioning again that the 2021 season was an odd one which may amount to a blip on the radar in hindsight, making it difficult to draw any worthwhile conclusions from the 56-game schedule. A team that needs to continue building their youth movement is in the Stanley Cup Final in the Canadiens. We’re in odd times. Continuing a three-horse race between three young goaltenders may be just as odd, but it’s where the Blackhawks find themselves.