Blackhawks biggest strength is now their biggest question

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The Chicago Blackhawks had one clear strength during the 2019-20 season that kept them at least somewhat competitive.

That strength: The goaltending duo of Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford that turned out to be one of the best in the league.

But as the season started to slip away, the Blackhawks made the decision to trade Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline, and then this offseason said goodbye to Crawford — a centerpiece of their mini-dynasty throughout the 2010s — as they begin what figures to be an extensive rebuild.

With Lehner in Vegas and Crawford now in New Jersey, the Blackhawks are set to open the season with Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban as their two NHL goalies.

It would be nearly impossible for the Blackhawks to experience two more opposite extremes at the position within a year.

While Lehner and Crawford were proven veterans at the top of the league, Delia and Subban could not be anymore unproven.

Both goalies will be 26 years old at the start of the season, and between them have appeared in only 82 NHL games with varying degrees of success.

Delia, who has his sights set on the starting job, has only played in 16 games and has not played at the NHL level since the 2018-19 season.

Subban has been nothing more than a backup and has a sub-.900 save percentage for his career.

They are a massive question mark entering the season. What has to be especially concerning for the Blackhawks — and their fans — is the answer to that question could produce an extremely disappointing result on the ice.

Not even great goaltending could help them a year ago

Here is the thing that has to be kept in mind with the Blackhawks: The Lehner and Crawford duo was outstanding last year.

They played at a level that would get most teams a playoff berth during an 82-game regular season (the Blackhawks did technically make the playoffs, but that was due to winning a play-in round that would not have existed in a normal regular season).

Just for some perspective on that, let’s look at the top-10 teams in team save percentage last season, where they finished in goals against, and where they finished in the overall league standings.

Of the top-10 teams in all situations save-percentage, the Blackhawks were the only team that did not also finish in the top-10 in goals against per game. They were 16th.

The Blackhawks were one of only three teams (Arizona and Winnipeg) that did not finish in the top-half of the league standings. They were 23rd, last among those ten teams and one of only two (Arizona) that was not on pace for at least 92 points in the standings (they were on pace for only 84 points).

What does this all mean?

Simply put, it is a testament to how much the rest of the team struggled that they could get that level of goaltending and still finish that low in the standings and still be that bad defensively.

It is hard to see how the team around the goalies will improve much — if at all — this season given the offseason moves. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are both another year old.

Mattias Janmark and Lucas Wallmark are fine signings, but losing Brandon Saad for Nikita Zadorov is a clear downgrade to the roster.

There are some intriguing young players that bridge the gap to the next era of Blackhawks hockey (Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, Dominik Kubalik) but it still looks to be an extremely porous defense without two proven, high-class goalies behind it to help mask it.

If they are not up to the challenge that could easily send the Blackhawks to the top of the draft lottery to kickoff their rebuild.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.