Wednesday Night Hockey: Blackhawks need shake up in goal

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the first time in a long time, the Chicago Blackhawks came into a season with a goaltender that could push Corey Crawford or at least fill in for him if he were to sit out for an extended period of time. Bringing in Robin Lehner was smart because he makes them better at the position and he came with a low-risk, one-year contract. But what do they do between the pipes after this season?

Both Lehner and Crawford are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. That means that the Blackhawks can blow up the position and go in a totally different direction this summer if they want to do that. That could be a tempting way to go.

It’s not surprising to see Crawford’s play has dropped off quite a bit over the last couple of years. He’s missed so much time with concussions and vertigo that it was only normal that he was going to start to dip at some point. Also, he’s 34 years old so this is natural regression too. His expiring contract will free up $6 million on the cap.

As for Lehner, he was unable to find a long-term contract when he hit the market last July, so he opted to sign a one-year, $5 million deal with the Hawks in free agency. Overall, he’s put up much better numbers than Crawford and he’s been more consistent.

But the reality is, if the Blackhawks decide to go in a completely different direction between the pipes next season, they’d be able to free up a significant amount of salary. Sure, they’d have to find and pay two other goalies, but they’d likely be able to do so at a much lower cost.

Obviously, they could also decide to bring back one of the two, which would make sense from their perspective. As of right now, you’d have to believe that if they bring one guy back, it should be Lehner. The 28-year-old is younger than Crawford and he has a 7-6-4 record with a 2.87 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage. On the flip side, Crawford owns a 6-9-2 record with a 3.08 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage.

Every team was reluctant to commit to Lehner last summer. Will that change next July?

Lehner’s proven to be a solid goaltender. He can get the job done. But given where the Hawks are as a franchise right now, it might make more sense to just go in a different direction completely. They haven’t made the playoffs in years, they’re in the basement of the Western Conference standings as of right now and they just seem stuck as a franchise.

What’s the best option(s)?

They could always opt to sign someone in free agency, they can draft and develop someone until their ready to takeover, or they can make a trade to land a new body.

If you look at the potential free-agent list for 2020, Braden Holtby‘s name jumps out at you right away. He’s a former Stanley Cup Champion, he’s 30 and he’s going to be expensive. Holtby is older than Lehner, but he’s a much more proven commodity. If the Capitals can’t find a way to get their starting netminder under contract, Chicago would have to be considered a landing spot for him. But again, the Blackhawks just aren’t very good. Does committing to a player like Holtby make sense?

Instead of drafting someone and waiting for them to develop into a starter, they could also just make a move for a young goalie that’s being groomed in a different organization.

For example, Cayden Primeau in Montreal would be a perfect candidate for the Blackhawks. The Canadiens already have Carey Price, Primeau is two years removed from being drafted, he’s already in the professional ranks, and he’s been reliable during his first AHL and NHL stints.

This seems like the best way to go.

It doesn’t necessarily have to Primeau, but the Canadiens have been scouting the Blackhawks and their farm team quite a bit over the last few weeks, so this is the example that makes the most sense in this case.

Can general manager Stan Bowman pull something like that off?

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. For the first time, NBC Sports will feature two ‘Inside-the-Glass’ commentators on this week’s Wednesday Night Hockey broadcast, as Eddie Olczyk will join analyst Brian Boucher to call the action from ice-level. John Forslund will handle play-by-play duties from United Center in Chicago, Ill.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.