Blackhawks may lack goaltending depth with trade of Anders Nilsson
With the Blackhawks sending Anders Nilsson to the Edmonton Oilers for forward prospect Niam Coughlin, questions about their goaltending depth might begin to emerge. Are they legitimate?
On Monday, with fans of the Chicago Blackhawks waiting for the larger pieces to fall, Stan Bowman made a rather minor deal in trading goaltending prospect Anders Nilsson to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for forward prospect Niam Coughlin. It's a deal that we'll likely forget about somewhat quickly, but could have some ramifications down the line, perhaps as early as this year.
Coughlin, a 20-year-old prospect drafted by the Oilers in 2014, doesn't appear to be of particularly notable consequence at this point, especially given the Blackhawks' already overwhelming depth at the forward position. The sending off of Anders Nilsson is notable, however, given the team's goaltending situation beyond what is present on their NHL roster.
The team is set to roll with Corey Crawford and Scott Darling as their 1-2 punch on the NHL roster. This was likely already set in stone. This is partially what likely led to the trade of Anders Nilsson. Nilsson was acquired as part of the Nick Leddy trade and was spending time in the KHL due to a lack of an NHL role for him with the Isles. That was likely going to be the case with the Blackhawks. With Edmonton, he'll battle with Ben Scrivens and Cam Talbot for a role on the NHL roster, assuming Scrivens isn't dealt.
But in dealing Nilsson, the Hawks suddenly find themselves thin at a position where there was actually some rare depth for them. In moving him and trading Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers, the Blackhawks are now without a third goaltender behind Crawford and Darling. With Crawford missing two stretches during the 2014-15 regular season, there was a need for three goaltenders. Should a similar situation arise, Michael Leighton would be the next in line for NHL time.
Leighton hasn't played consistently at the NHL level since the 2009-10 season, and we all know how that ended for him. He started just a single game for the Philadelphia Flyers the following season, and started just one in 2012-13. That pair of starts accounts for the entirety of his NHL action since 2009-10. He gave up nine goals combined in those two starts. He's AHL depth, sure, but not someone you want minding the net in the event of a Crawford injury or Darling performance meltdown.
Matt Tomkins and Ivan Nalimov represent the other goaltenders currently in the system for the Blackhawks. Tomkins could have some upside when his collegiate career at Ohio State is over, but Nalimov appears to be a long way off. Neither of them will likely be a factor in 2015-16 for the Blackhawks. This means that we could see the Blackhawks try and grab a goaltender on the cheap before training camp begins. It'll likely be on the backburner, as it should be, as Stan Bowman completes other high priority tasks, but don't be surprised to see them bring someone in, if not to push Darling as a no. 2, then simply to serve as quality AHL depth.
At the end of the day, there isn't really anything to fret over at present date in relation to the Blackhawks' goaltending situation beyond Crawford and Darling. The two should give the Hawks as formidable a 1-2 punch between the pipes as there is in hockey. While moving both Raanta and Nilsson is curious, it isn't entirely surprising, given Joel Quenneville's apparent preference for Darling over the former, Raanta's waiver eligibility, and Nilsson's past issues with a lack of an NHL role.
But moving both of them does provide the Hawks with a noticeable absence of emergency depth in their system, and that's something that they could look to rectify later on in the summer, once they finish retooling everything in front of the position.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.