There are still plenty of free agent option available, but to this point the Chicago Blackhawks seem content to enter next season with their current stable of untested goaltenders, truly committing to their rebuild by going with youth over experience in net. Who will emerge from the group of Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Matt Tomkins? Given his relative experience, draft pedigree, and recent success at winning the backup job for the Blackhawks’ postseason run, most have their money on Subban. However, don’t underestimate Delia. In a profile by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope, Delia states that he is confident in his ability to win the job:
I’d be remiss if I said I wasn’t frothing at the mouth. It’s an opportunity not many people get, and I don’t want to let that pass me by… When (Chicago) signed Robin [Lehner], I was kind of cutting my teeth because I thought I earned the position, but then, coming full circle, I was like, ‘You can’t try to earn a position as a backup goalie. You try to earn the starting position’… Without a doubt, I think I can earn that job. There’s no complacency when it comes to training camp. Every single day you step on the ice, you’re proving how much better you are than the other two guys. We all have to have that mindset.
Delia may have the stats on his side, too. While Subban has 48 more NHL appearances than Delia, in his extended experience he has failed to show that he can be a reliable option. Subban has an .899 save percentage and 2.97 GAA and has struggled the most as a starter, with just 23 quality starts out of 60. Granted, Delia has also struggled in the NHL with a 3.65 GAA, but a) in a much smaller sample size and b) with a a superior .906 save percentage and .438 quality start percentage. Delia also has the advantage of being used to a starter’s schedule; Subban has never made more than 36 appearances in a pro season and no more than 22 in each of the past three years, while Delia has made 32 appearances in back-to-back seasons and played in 40 games in 2017-18 as a first-year pro. With Delia, Subban, and Lankinen all having comparable AHL numbers in varying levels of experience, it could come down to NHL success and more natural fit as a No. 1 to determine the winner of the starter’s job and on both counts Delia appears to have the edge.
- Another goalie headed to Chicago, but not to the Blackhawks but rather the AHL Wolves, is former WHL standout Beck Warm. The Wolves have announced a one-year deal with the first-year pro and there’s reason to believe that the Carolina Hurricanes’ new affiliate could have a diamond in the rough on their hands in Warm. The 21-year-old had an impressive 2018-19 season with the Tri-City Americans, making 61 appearances to the tune of a .916 save percentage and 2.94 GAA. When those numbers slipped to begin the 2019-20 campaign, a trade to the Edmonton Oil Kings resulted in Warm winning 11 of 15 games with a .915 save percentage and 2.30 GAA. If he can replicate his best numbers from junior to the pro level, Warm could find great success. With Carolina employing five goalies for the coming season, Warm could spend much of the year in the ECHL. However, the Hurricanes have zero goalies under contract beyond 2020-21 and could look at Warm as an entry-level contract candidate as they reboot their goalie group next year.
- One veteran goalie not returning to North America is Jeremy Smith. The journeyman netminder, who made stops with the Predators, Blue Jackets, Bruins, Avalanche, Hurricanes, and Islanders, never had any problem finding a two-way contract. However, he finally moved on from the minors last year to take over the starting job for the Kunlun Red Star of the KHL. Although Smith ended up splitting time with Simon Hrubec, the tandem were among the most consistent in the league. The Red Star began their new season without Smith and the results have been disastrous; the team allowed well over three goals per game through their first 24 contests and the struggling Hrubec has been traded away. As a result, Kunlun has signed Smith to a one-year extension and they hope he can stabilize the net in his return.