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Analyzing the Blackhawks’ goaltending options

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There are lot of reasons the Chicago Blackhawks run of nine consecutive postseason appearances came to a sudden end during the 2017-18 season.

Those reasons included, but were not limited to, the fact Jonathan Toews has started to slow down offensively (don’t deny it, it’s happening) with several other core players joining him.

Marian Hossa‘s career came to an abrupt end.

The front office badly whiffed on the trade that saw them send Artemi Panarin to Columbus for a Brandon Saad reunion.

But the biggest issue was probably the fact starting goalie Corey Crawford was limited to just 27 games and none of the five — yes, five! — goalies they used in an effort to replace him where able to provide the team with anything close to adequate NHL goaltending.

The numbers speak for themselves: With Crawford in the lineup the Blackhawk were 16-9-2, a record that would have put them at a 103-point pace over 82 games. Crawford’s .929 save percentage, which was among the best in the NHL, was a significant part of that.

Without him in the lineup they were just 17-30-8, a record that would have put them on a 65-point pace over 82 games. In other words, one of the worst teams in the league. The combined .902 save percentage from Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube, Jeff Glass, Collin Deila, and emergency fill-in Scott Foster (to be fair, he did stop all seven shots he faced!) contributed significantly to those struggles.

On Wednesday, Berube was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Obviously the return of a healthy Crawford will be significant factor in whether or not the Blackhawks are able to rebound in 2018-19.

The problem: Nobody really knows anything about where Crawford is in his recovery from what the team will only refer to as an “upper-body injury.” Prior to the NHL draft this past week the Blackhawks offered an update on Crawford which really wasn’t much of an update at all.

Here is general manager Stan Bowman in a conference call with reporters, via the Chicago Sun Times:

“What I said at the end of the year is still the case now. We expect Corey to be back,” Bowman said during a pre-NHL draft conference call with media. “We don’t have any reason to think that’s not going to happen.”

“All the players are preparing for next season. Corey is in that same preparation mode. … Nothing has changed.”

Bowman all said the Blackhawks expect him to be available for the start of training camp in a couple of months. Until Crawford is back on the ice and actually taking shots in the Blackhawks’ net the entire situation will remain a mystery. And even when — if? — that does happen the Blackhawks should still probably be in the market for some sort of capable backup or insurance policy, because the quintet of players they used this past season was obviously not good enough.

[Related: PHT Power Rankings: The top-20 NHL Free Agents]

The question, of course, is where they go to find that insurance policy.

Scott Powers of the Athletic reported this week that the Blackhawks have reached out to Jonathan Bernier, Carter Hutton and Cam Ward, while TSN’s Pierre LeBrun mentioned that Ward could be a “strong” possibility to land in Chicago on July 1.

Jay Zawaski of 670 The Score also reported that a deal may already be in the works.

The concern there if you’re a Blackhawks fan is that Ward hasn’t been very good for the better part of the past six years.

Another way of putting it is that Ward has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL.

Just consider that since the start of the 2012-13 season there have been 59 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games in the NHL.

Cam Ward’s .906 save percentage during that stretch ties him for the worst mark in the league with Mike Condon, Anders Nilsson, and Ben Scrivens.

His .913 save percentage in even-strength situations again puts him in a tie for the worst mark along with Condon.

On one hand, the argument could be made that Ward has spent almost all of that time playing behind a team that hasn’t had much success and that joining the Blackhawks might help him. But for the past few years the Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams when it comes to suppressing shots against (the Blackhawks in recent years have become only mediocre in that area) and hasn’t had to face an extremely heavy work load. There is a strong argument to be made that goaltending is one of the biggest reasons the team has not had more success on the ice, with Ward being the primary goaltender for most of that run. He also is 34 years old and turns 35 in February, which isn’t exactly a prime age for goalies — especially ones that do not have a track record of consistently strong play.

The other potential free agent options are far more appealing.

On Wednesday, our Joey Alfieri argued that Robin Lehner, who was not extended a qualifying offer by the Buffalo Sabres, would make a lot of sense for the Detroit Red Wings. I would argue that he would probably be an ideal fit in Chicago. He is coming off of a down year in Buffalo — who wasn’t? — but had a lot of success in the two years prior while playing behind what has been a mostly dreadful team. He is not a star by any means but he might have the most upside of any of the free agents available.

Bernier is also an intriguing option because you know exactly what you’re going to get, and in a perfect world it is exactly what the Blackhawks might need — a solid, capable backup that can fill in for an extended period of time if Crawford’s situation remains what it is.

Among the same 59 goalie sampling mentioned above with Ward, Bernier finds himself sitting 30th and 25th in save percentage and even-strength save percentage out of that group. In other words, he is not going to steal you many games, but he probably will not lose you many games, either.

Even that would be a massive upgrade over what the Blackhawks were using in net a season ago. It would also be a far more intriguing option than a soon-to-be 35-year-old Cam Ward.

More NHL Free Agency:
• Ilya Kovalchuk, Kings agree to terms on three-year deal
• John Carlson gets $64 million payday as Capitals lock up defenseman

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.

‘Bread’ is the man in playoff surge for the Blue Jackets

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Artemi Panarin turned out to be everything the Columbus Blue Jackets were looking for when they traded for him last summer: A dead-eye sniper and deft puck distributor who can get game-breaking goals and make everyone around him better.

And, the Blue Jackets hope, a guy who can get them deeper into the playoffs.

So far, so good. Columbus heads home to Nationwide Arena after taking a 2-0 lead over Washington in their first-round series on Sunday night, a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win in which Panarin contributed a pair of key assists.

That came three nights after Panarin won the series opener in overtime. With two assists already in regulation, he drove down the left side, slipped past Capitals defenseman Dimitry Orlov and snapped a shot over goalie Philipp Grubauer‘s shoulder.

”There’s very few people who can make that shot,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said.

”He can make a play from nothing,” Orlov said. ”He’s so smooth.”

The Blue Jackets probably wouldn’t be playing in the postseason without the 26-year-old Russian they call the ”Bread Man.” He was a steady presence and consistent scorer through a bumpy season of slumps and injuries to other key players.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Panarin led Columbus with 27 goals and 55 assists, and his 82 points were the most in a single season in franchise history. His plus/minus of 23 and average of just over 20 minutes on the ice per game were career highs.

Panarin – sounds like Panera Bread, hence the hockey nickname of ”Bread Man” or just ”Bread” – has embraced being a featured star after playing in the large shadow of Patrick Kane in Chicago in his first two years in the league.

”In Chicago, I played with Kane and got a lot of assists from him,” Panarin said. ”But I always wanted something more, to put more of the game on myself and be more accountable for the result. Here, I got that, what I wanted.”

Panarin, who won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL in 2015-16, was acquired from the Black Hawks last June along with forward Tyler Motte for forward Brandon Saad and goalie Anton Forsberg. Saad was a reliable player for Columbus for two seasons.

”Bread is a different type player because he can make a special play to win a game,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. ”I just think for you to get through and find your way and try to be a better playoff team, you have to have some players that are dynamic. You’re not coaching it, they just see something, they seize a moment and they win you a game. Or they make a huge play to get you back in the game in another way.”

With the Blue Jackets on a power play and down 3-2 in the second period on Sunday, Panarin dribbled the puck and patiently waited for a lane to open up before delivering a pinpoint circle-to-circle pass to Cam Atkinson , who scored the tying goal.

Panarin’s line mates, veteran winger Atkinson and 19-year-old rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois, have benefited from his skills. Atkinson – who had two goals on Sunday – has come on strong after missing time with injuries, finishing the regular season with 14 goals and 14 assists in February and March. Dubois had 20 goals and 28 assists in the regular season, making him the most productive rookie in Blue Jackets history.

Panarin makes $6 million a year on a contract that runs through next season. He’ll be due a sizeable salary bump if the Blue Jackets decide to keep him around after that.

So far, he’s been an ideal fit.

”When they first traded me, of course for a couple days, I worried,” he said. ”But then I calmed down and understood that this is all good for me. I understood that here I would progress as a player first and foremost. What’s most important to me isn’t money, but the whole game.”

Associated Press Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed to this report.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

USHL team invites Blackhawks’ Scott Foster to be their ’emergency accountant’

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Let’s hope that because it’s a holiday weekend Scott Foster was given Friday off, or at least allowed to leave early from his job at Golub Capital in order to recover and celebrate a pretty neat achievement from the night before.

On Thursday, Foster became a sensation when he was called into action by the Chicago Blackhawks. Serving as the team’s emergency backup goaltender, he was brought into the game when Collin Delia, starting in place of Anton Forsberg, who suffered a pre-game injury, started cramping in the third period.

Foster, an accountant and beer leaguer who played at Western Michigan over a decade ago, went from his spot in the Blackhawks’ press box to pulling on the pads and playing the final 14:01, stopping all seven shots he faced and earning first star honors during a 6-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League can’t sign Foster due to the fact that its a league for 16-21 year olds. Foster is 36, so the only way he can be part of the team is to put his skills from his day job to good use for the junior hockey team.

On Friday, the Steel proposed to Foster that he should come join the team as the their emergency accountant.

“If Scott can handle itemized deductions as well as he handles a Dustin Byfuglien slap shot, he’ll be a great asset,” said Steel President Dan Lehv in a release that is chock-full of accounting puns. “To perform like he did, in the height of tax season, really showed us how well he can balance things.”

If Foster prefers to remain at Golub Capital, the Steel are hoping he will at least accept their invitation to do the ceremonial face-off honors before their Fan Appreciation Night game on April 13. From the sounds of it, he appears to be someone who isn’t intimidated by many situations. That’d be a good asset for the Steel to add to their organization.

“You think there’d be a lot of pressure,” Foster said Thursday night. “But really, tomorrow, I’m going to wake up, I’m going to button up my shirt and I’m going to go back to my day job. What pressure is there for me?”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Two NHL debuts in the same net in the same game

Associated Press

Players of the Night:

Scott Foster, Chicago Blackhawks: You will likely never see this name in this spot again, so you’re reading history. Foster stopped all seven shots he faced in an emergency relief appearance against the Winnipeg Jets. The 36-year-old accountant was summoned after Collin Delia was injured with 14:01 remaining in the third period. Anton Forsberg, who was supposed to get the nod, was injured in warmup. Enter the accountant by day, who stopped shots off the sticks of Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine and was named the games first star.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus Blue Jackets: Dubois registered his first NHL hat trick and made some Blue Jackets history along the way. Dubois set a new Columbus rookie record for goals with 18, surpassing the previous mark of 17 set by Rick Nash during the 2002-03 season. If Dubois can finish out the season strong, he can pass the points mark of 47 set by Zach Werenski last season. Dubois has 44 points now.

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings: Joining Dubois in the hat trick department was Carter, who potted three goals, one in each period, to help see of the Arizona Coyotes in a 4-2 win. The victory helped move the Kings two points head of the Anaheim Ducks for third place in the Pacific Division. On Friday, both teams will meet in what Carter called the “game of the year” following Thursday’s win.

Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild: Dumba scored and added three assists in the first four-point night by the Wild defenseman in franchise history. His production also propelling the Wild to a vital win as they try to lock down the third spot in the Central Division.

Highlight of the Night:

This, by far:

Other Highlights of the Night:

Poke check:

Rask throwing bombs:

Aw, man. This would have been incredible. It was already incredible.

Solid effort and feed from Granlund:

This is just getting silly now:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Blue Jackets 5, Flames 1

Blackhawks 6, Jets 2

Wild 5, Stars 2

Predators 5, Sharks 3

Senators 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

Penguins 4, Devils 3 (OT)

Red Wings 6, Sabres 3

Bruins 4, Lightning 2

Canucks 2, Oilers 1

Kings 4, Coyotes 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Scott Foster, accountant by day, makes NHL debut with Blackhawks

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Scott Foster’s night probably started the same way it does every night there’s a Chicago Blackhawks game in the Windy City.

He arrived at the arena as the emergency goalie with his equipment in tow before depositing it somewhere for safe keeping. Then, he makes his way up to the press box, gets his free meal with a guest he brought and settles down to watch the game from high above the ice surface at United Center.

Rinse and repeat.

Except for Thursday.

All of that preamble likely happened for Foster. He probably arrived at the rink at the same time, ate a nice press box meal and then settled into his comfy seat. But it’s unlikely he ever thought he’d be throwing his gear on, nevermind stepping onto the ice in his first professional hockey game.

That dream got one step closer to become a reality when Anton Forsberg going down in warm up, Foster likely took the rest of his pre-game meal in a to-go bag.

And when Collin Delia (also making his first pro start) went down injured in the third period with a 6-2 lead against the Winnipeg Jets, Foster likely threw up whatever he ate into the nearest garbage bin and then put his mask over his face before walking down the tunnel, past names like Kane and Keith and onto the ice in front of 20,000-plus.

You could say he was ready:

Foster then had some fun with his post-game media scrum:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-shaXm7kOM%5D

Foster isn’t an easy man to find with a Google search. His HockeyDB page is pretty much it. He’s listed as a 6-foot, 185-pound goalie from Sarnia, Ont., who hasn’t played a meaningful game since the 2005-06 season when he was at Western Michigan.

That was well over a decade ago.

As of Thursday, Foster now has an update to add to that website.

Foster made seven saves on seven shots in his 14:01 of fame.

Look at Joel Quenneville’s smile:

And guess who was the night’s No. 1 star.

You can’t make this stuff up.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck