As the NHL and the Blackhawks look ahead to the NHL Draft in June and the beginning of free agency starting July 1, it’s important to look back on the season that was and analyze the possibilities for next season. After a year of growth and change for the Hawks, there is bound to be lots more for the young team.
In this three-part series, chicagoblackhawks.com has covered both forwards and defensemen, and, in this final installment, goaltending.
Contract Status of Blackhawks Goaltenders, 2008 Off-Season:
Signed (1): Nikolai Khabibulin
Restricted FA (1): Corey Crawford
Unrestricted FA (3): Patrick Lalime, Mike Brodeur, Patrick Flaherty
Prospects in the system: Annti Niemi, Joe Fallon, Josh Unice
At the moment: The only sure-fire player who to make the roster as it stands in Khabibulin, who is coming into the last year of his deal. There were times last year when “The Bulin Wall” looked like his old self, registering a 2.64 goals against average and save percentage of .909%. With talent behind him and in a walk year, Khabibulin should be motivated to perform to a high level.
The Blackhawks still maintain control of Crawford, and there aren’t many scenarios where the prospect doesn’t return to the organization in some capacity. Though he only went 1-2 last year, his one win was a shutout of the defending champion Anaheim Ducks. With Lalime’s uncertain contract status, Crawford and Finnish goaltender Niemi, who was signed in the off-season, may fight for the chance to back up Khabibulin.
Not a knock on Niemi by any means, but Crawford may have the inside track; he has NHL experience and could make the transition easier. Brodeur dressed for one game last year but didn’t register any time between the pipes.
In the Future/ Prospects: Joe Fallon, whom the Hawks signed in April from the University of Vermont, is a certifiable prospect; in 33 games in goal last year, he recorded a 15-13 record and 2.38 GAA, including 3 shutouts.
Josh Unice, currently playing in Kitchener in the OHL, could conceivably find his way into the AHL, and his 30-6 record with 4 shutouts means that Unice warrants a closer look.
Analysis: Khabibulin is the only certainty to make the 2008-09 Blackhawks roster, although there are plenty of options to back him up. Crawford seems like the logical choice to start the season as a backup with his experience, but Niemi, Lalime or a free agent could just as easily find their way into the backup slot. Judging by lack of depth in the minors, don’t be surprised if a mid-round draft pick is spent on a goaltender.