Chicago Blackhawks – Playing GM with the Goalies


Chicago, IL — There is no question the 2011-12 season was the year of the goalie.  It is only fitting that LA Kings Goalie Jonathan Quick was awarded the Conn Smyth Trophy as MVP for his team. The Blackhawks however, can’t say that they got MVP quality out of their goaltending position this past season. This makes this position one that as a GM needs to be addressed rather quickly if the Hawks hope to have better results going forward.

With Anders Lindback of Nashville being traded to Tampa Bay and Tomas Vokoun going to the Pittsburgh Penguins the goalie pool is drying up. While there is a goalie in Vancouver I would like to see in Chicago that is probably not going to happen either, and I’m not referring to Luongo.

It is very slim pickings in the UFA/RFA market for Goalies. There are some names Josh Harding, Min; Marty Biron, NYR; Antero Niittymaki, SJS & Jonas Gustavsson, Tor.  Of these the only one with better GAA 2.62% & Sv .917 % is Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild and he is affordable with a current cap hit of only 750K. Harding could be a starting netminder somewhere. The remaining goalies are all back-ups at best. This is not the route I see the Blackhawks going in for the 2012-13 campaign.

It is pretty clear to me that the Blackhawks will be sticking with Corey Crawford in the Chicago nets with Ray Emery as the back-up. Crawford will have a lot to prove in 2012. Was the 2011 season just a sophomore slump or was the 2010 season just an anomaly for Crawford? Most of 2012 will determine which of these scenarios is true.

Crawford had an average at best year for Chicago between the pipes. I know all of the Crawford proponents will cite that the defense in front of him was not the best. The stats say differently though. The Hawks ranked 9th in the NHL for shots against which is pretty good or is better than average. Yet Crawford’s stats are average with a 2.72 GAA & .903 Sv%. Crawford also had no recorded shutouts in the regular season or the playoffs which is on him. What this all means is the defense in front of Crawford had him facing fewer shots than most teams and he was unable to stop them.

It is also unlikely that current back-up Ray Emery will be able to step into the lead role either. Emery did an alright job spotting Crawford but anyone who watched the Hawks knows that Emery’s lateral movement in the crease is hindered by injuries. He has great veteran leadership and seems to bring out the best in the defense in front of him but he is not a starting goaltender at this point in his career sadly. If the Hawks could have had Emery in his prime that would be a different story.

If the Hawks are to shore up a very weak goalie position this year I feel it will be from the farm system and prospects that are also thin at goal. Just this past week the Blackhawks put Alexander Salak on waivers. He was supposed to be the next comer and in fact there were whispers out of last year’s training camp he actually beat Emery out but the Hawks went with veteran leadership over Salak. Now it appears Salak will be heading back to Europe in likelihood.

Blackhawk Goalie Prospects

Goalies

GP

 

 

W

L

SL

SO

GA

GAA

SVS

SV%

Carter Hutton RFD IceHogs AHL 43 22 13 4 3 93 2.35 1033 0.917
Kent Simpson RFD IceHogs AHL 1 0 0 1 0 3 2.85 38 0.927
Alec Richards RFD IceHogs AHL 22 7 11 2 0 67 3.55 558 0.893
Mac CarruthPOR Winterhawks WHLJohan Mattson SUD Wolves OHL 6337 4223 711 00 20 177114 2.953.16 16621158 0.9040.910

Above are the stats from last year on all the goalies in the Hawks system at either the pro or prospect levels. The most likely candidate to challenge Crawford looks to be Carter Hutton. Hutton is coming off of a banner year with the Rockford IceHogs. He was named Rockford’s MVP and stole the IceHog’s net from Salak. He broke numerous records including number of shutouts  – 3 and highest save percentage (.917). I Hutton also tied the high mark for number of power-play points – 1 and short-handed points -1 by an IceHogs goaltender during the AHL era. He was called up by the Hawks at the end of the year. Look for him to compete in camp and to try to push to make the roster. 1

The remaining goalies all need more time and experience before even having a serious run with making the Hawks team. Of the remaining Alec Richards would be next in line to have a shot with the club. Last year he got some records too for a single game with most shots faced in a game and period in Rockford.

In the upcoming 2012 draft it is being predicted by some that the Hawks will take a goalie either PK Subban’s kid brother Malcom Subban or Russian sensation Andrei Vasilevski. Vasilevski you will recall from the junior Worlds when Russia beat Canada. Both of these prospects are projected to one day be starting NHL goalies. I don’t think the Blackhawks will select a goalie in the first round there are too many talented skaters and we all know how the Hawks covet skilled skaters. Still if either of these are left in round 2 the Hawks may take the goalie plunge which would also indicate their confidence in Crawford or lack thereof.

The one good thing for Stan Bowman on the goalie front is Cristobal Huet. Yes his enormous salary is finally coming off of the books. It is almost like Bowman hit the jackpot to the tune of 5.6mil. I know ridiculous that he was getting that much. Again this illustrates how wrong the Blackhawks have been in assessing talent at this position and puts more pressure on the GM to now get this right.

This season I believe will be the fork in the road for Crawford. If he will stay in a Hawks uniform or not will be determined this year. If Crawford has another year like 2011 it is safe to say he will probably be moved and it might even be done before season’s end with Bowman’s job potentially on the line this year with how the Hawks do.

If I were the GM I would give Corey this year to get it together and see where the chips were falling. I like Bowman, believe Corey is capable of being a very good goaltender. He may just have had a bad year. I think his mechanics need some work. I also don’t think being yanked in and out of the starting lineup in 2011 helped his confidence. That of course is on the coach which, I will discuss in another blog. The goalie is a position that takes the longest to develop to have consistency at. It is also one of the most if not the most important positions in all of sports, so minimal mistakes can be made here.

2012 will be up to Crawford to impress or he maybe leaving the state of Illinois. Fair or not all eyes this year will be on him. If the Hawks are to succeed in going farther in the playoffs Crawford must stand on his head for this team especially in the playoffs which, is where he has faltered. Say what you will but Bowman has put Crawford in the best and worst position on this team. The best – he can become a Cup winning goalie ala Niemi. The worst he will fade under the pressure ala Luongo who can’t bring home a Cup for Vancouver.  The one thing Crawford has going for him, his destiny is in his own hands.

In the next segment I will look at the coaching staff of the Chicago Blackhawks. The dysfunction that Coach Q implied in his press conference and cohesion among the coaching staff. I will give my critiques of what they do well and not so well. I will give a couple of suggestions to fix that dreaded power play. Til then happy puck drops!

1 taken from Chicago Blackhawks website: www.chicagoblackhawks.com

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