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Safety Net

June 21, 2021, 3:59 AM ET [255 Comments]
Theo Fox
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT

Unless there's a shakeup, Kevin Lankinen is the Blackhawks starter for the foreseeable future until he's unseated. Yes, he had some stretches of subpar play last year. However, on the balance, he showed enough brilliance to inspire confidence to lock it down.

Malcolm Subban may be fine as the 2nd string for now but could find himself on another team either this summer or at the TDL unless he's fine with being a career backup. His shot at being an NHL starter is fading away especially if he doesn't improve his rebound control.

Collin Delia seemed to be the goalie du jour at season's end after riding pine for most of the year and being sent to the AHL for a conditioning stint. Despite getting the late nods, Delia may have worn out his welcome in Chicago by not being as selfless as Subban.

The 4th string transitions from 2012 7th rounder Matt Tomkins -- who signed on with Frolunda in the Swedish elite league -- to 2020 NCAA free agent Cale Morris who the IceHogs re-signed to a one-year extension after going 2-3-0 and sporting a 2.52 and .923.

Tom Aubrun will enter year two of his AHL contract having spent more time with the Fuel of the ECHL than with the Hogs this past season. The likelihood he surges into a viable goalie prospect is pretty slim. He's lucky if he graduates above 3rd string in Rockford.

If there's a goalie to rise up the ranks in short order, recent European signee Arvid Soderblom could be it. Although slight in frame at 6'1" and 168 pounds, Soderblom has a balanced game with his being explosive, controlling of rebounds, and squaring up to shooters.

Ivan Nalimov finally made his North America debut after playing for 7 KHL clubs in as many seasons. The job hopper ran hot and cold for the Hogs either being rock solid in net or letting in soft goals with regularity. There's not much intrigue with him so best to move on.

In the college ranks are Drew Commesso and Dominic Basse. Commesso is the Hawks goalie of the future. He turned in a strong first year at Boston University (6-3-1, 2.99, .915), was invited to Team USA's WJC camp, and was a late add to the IIHF World Championships squad.

Basse stormed out of the gate as a freshman at Colorado College eventually supplanting Matt Vernon, son of Flames goalie great Mike Vernon, before crashing down to earth ending with some lackluster numbers (4-11-1, 3.18, .895) to round out his first college season.

Look for Commesso to go pro as early as next summer but possibly after junior year then spend a few seasons in the AHL to gain experience. Basse may have a similar trajectory as Tomkins playing out his NCAA eligibility before toiling in the minor leagues.

Veteran Mentor

As previous Blackhawks writer Tyler Cameron has suggested in the past, it may be a realistic course of action for the Blackhawks to pursue a veteran goalie this offseason to provide short-term stability in the crease and a mentor for the young Chicago tenders.

The question would then be whether to acquire one in free agency or via the trade route. Notable free agent goalies who are affordable as far as salary and term (1-2 years) include Jonathan Bernier, Petr Mrazek, James Reimer, David Rittich, and Linus Ullmark.

Of this bunch, Bernier, Mrazek, and Reimer may make sense. While none of them have won much in the NHL, they do have extensive miles to help young goalies refine how they train and prepare for games. Rittich and Ullmark may not have that credibility yet.

Although less likely, the Hawks could go after bigger fish by being a suitor for Philipp Grubauer or Chris Driedger. Grubauer may not be realistic having just earned $3.33M (30-9-1, 1.95, .922) but perhaps Driedger is more so after getting paid $850,000 (14-6-3, 2.08 .927).

If the Hawks trade for a netminder, the goal would be to not give up much assets for a player who would be needed for just a season or two. Thus, a trade doesn't seem as feasible as a free agent signing given the latter doesn't cost any assets besides the contract.

Drafting Goalies

The next blog will take a look at whether the Blackhawks should draft a goalie with their 11th pick in the 2021 entry draft.

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Dylan Strome

This rumor is no surprise as Dylan Strome has seemingly been on the outs at least with head coach Jeremy Colliton as he was a healthy scratch down the stretch this past year in a season where the team was hurting for top 6 centers.

Strome didn't do himself any favors with his inconsistency to make an impact. If Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach bounce back strongly, Strome may not have a role especially with young pivots challenging like Philipp Kurashev, Henrik Borgstrom, and Lukas Reichel.

Even if Strome is being shopped, his value may not be high so the return may not be favorable. Also, are there teams with sufficient interest to take him on? He does have one year remaining on his current contract worth $3M before he becomes an RFA.

Looking through comment sections and message boards, a common trade scenario that pops up is dealing Strome to Edmonton (note, these proposals are from Oilers fans). A more ideal scenario would be transacting with a team that needs to unload an unfavorable contract.

Some destinations include Long Island for Johnny Boychuk's contract, Anaheim for Ryan Kesler's contract, and New Jersey for P.K. Subban's contract. Trade possibilities to take on such contracts -- not necessarily for Strome -- will be explored in a later blog.

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Jack Eichel

The Blackhawks clearly need help down the middle especially with top 6 talent. The aforementioned Strome is on the block like Jack Eichel plus Toews' career is a question mark. Dach, Kurashev, Borgstrom, and Reichel are unproven and range from 19 to 23 years of age.

Plain and simple, though, trading for Eichel should be a no go for the rebuilding Hawks. The going rate for Eichel would be along the lines of Dach, 2021 1st round pick, and rostered players to offset some of his $10M salary for the next 5 years.

Adding a third salary worth at least $10M AAV would handcuff the Hawks financially and substantially hinder their ability to re-sign youngsters coming off of ELCs and bridge deals and to bring aboard other impact players via free agency.

Also, rebuilding is about quantity of high-caliber players, not putting all eggs in one player's basket. Acquiring Eichel would be at the expense of at least two key pieces of a rebuild, i.e. Dach and whoever is selected at 11th in this year's draft. Not worth it.

Lastly, Eichel has a history of being a malcontent. Chicago shouldn't be on his wishlist if he wants to be on a contender and be on an expedited timeline to compete for a Cup. If he does land with the Hawks, will he complain and want out if the rebuild takes too long?

Eichel may not be happy that future cornerstones in Dach and the 11th pick aren't there when he arrives. Does he understand how player economics works? A team may have to deplete some of its coveted resources to get him so that could leave him at square one again.

While the term "being a locker room cancer" may be too extreme and unwarranted, he isn't shy to speak his mind which causes waves within the organization. Some players, coaches, and administration may like that honest, competitive fire but it may rub others the wrong way, too.

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