Blackhawks Goalie Situation a Win-Win-Win

Often times in sports, the rich get richer.

Teams categorized as “contenders” often have the luxury of taking chances on certain guys, or even just getting a quality player at a discounted rate (see: Vokoun, Tomas).

Oddly enough, the Blackhawks' circle of goalies starts with Vokoun. At the deadline in 2010, he was rumored to be Stan Bowman’s primary trade target as many believed the tandem of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet would not be enough to make the Hawks a serious Stanley Cup contender.The Hawks and Panthers could never find a deal and Niemi’s wonderful run proved the doubters wrong anyhow.

Niemi’s playoff performance, primarily in the sweep against the San Jose Sharks, took his price tag out of the Hawks’ range and he eventually signed with the same team he shut down. Huet’s awful contract remains on the books, but the Hawks were able to send him overseas.

This all opened the door for Corey Crawford. He began with three very short stints in Chicago as a backup to Nikolai Khabibulin. He played in two games in 2005-06, five in 2007-08 and once in 2009-10. His numbers in AHL for the Rockford IceHogs were good, but he was an unknown commodity. Needless to say, he came up to Chicago last season and snatched the number one job right out of Marty Turco’s grasp; a grasp that wasn’t all that tight.

But Crawford exceeded expectations. He got better and better as the season wore on, and at times, he was the only player on the struggling and inconsistent Blackhawks that anyone had any confidence in. By the time the playoffs rolled around and the Blackhawks had snuck in as the eighth seed, Crawford had established himself as the goaltender of the present and the future. His tremendous series against the top-seeded Canucks affirmed this, led of course by his shutout in Game 5 and his brilliant performance in Game 7, which kept the Blackhawks in the game.

Following the season, Crawford got a three-year extension and the Blackhawks suddenly didn’t have problems in net any longer. With Turco a free agent, the back-up job now was open.

Enter Alexander Salak.

Bowman did end up trading for a Panthers goalie, but it wasn’t Vokoun. Salak came over in the Skille-for-Frolik deal. A deal that now looks like one heck of a steal for Bowman.

But Salak is as much an unproven commodity as Crawford or Niemi were. The Hawks signed him up at the end of May, which brought him over from Europe and it was assumed he’d take over the back-up job right away.

Not so fast. With the market for available goalies dwindling in free agency, 28 year old Ray Emery was sitting at home without a job after making his comeback to the NHL last season in Anaheim. He was 7-2 in 10 games and started six in the playoffs with a 2.28 GAA and a .926 SV%.

The Blackhawks invited Emery to camp on a tryout basis and will give him an equal opportunity to compete for the backup job with Salak. It’s a pretty brilliant move by Bowman, but it’s also something of a no-brainer. A goalie that good, who could be had for extremely cheap, is something a smart GM doesn’t pass up.

Not only is he good enough to be one of the better backups in the NHL, but he’s also got great experience, leading the Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. He’s also a guy who is not afraid to mix things up and get in a tussle every now and then. The Hawks wanted to get tougher this offseason, why not start with the guy in net?

It’s a situation, barring any unforeseen events, that the Hawks can’t really lose in.

If Emery beats out Salak, then the Hawks have a veteran backup worthy of the position for a very cheap deal. Salak’s contract stipulates he could be sent to Rockford without having to clear waivers as well. Win-win.

If Salak beats out Emery, then it means you have a pretty talented 24 year old on your hands and it makes the trade with Florida that much better. Emery can walk away and seek another opportunity at no cost to the Blackhawks. Again, it’s a win-win.

Oh, and you still have Corey Crawford. Win. 


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George Prax's picture

Good blog and welcome to the team Slavko. I think it was a good move to invite Emery. The guy has what it takes to be a great goalie still, I think, and there's no loss in giving him a shot. If Salak plays out of this world they can just let Emery go, if they're uncertain all it does is add depth. I agree, it's a win, win, win!

Adam Pardes's picture

I have to admit Prax, I'm pretty surprised you didn't go for "All I Do Is Win" in the rotator slide. Tongue

Adam Pardes's picture

Great work. I can't believe no one offered Emery a contract after he proved he was back to form with the Ducks, but at least the Blackhawks seized the opportunity and gave him that try-out. Welcome to the team!

sbekovic's picture

I'm really rooting for Emery to make the team out of camp. A full year in Rockford can only help Salak, and it's a win-win for Emery too. He can prove himself on a bigger stage and then seek a starting job in free agency next summer.