Now that the Chicago Blackhawks have Alex Stalock back, after being out with a concussion since early November, there’s no better time to shift their focus to how to best leverage his surprisingly hot start in 2022-23. Rather than finding a way to rush him back toward taking over their No. 1 title, though, it would make far more sense to extract the heightened value he may currently carry.
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With Petr Mrázek and Arvid Söderblom having already gotten accustomed to sharing the workload in Chicago, there’s no reason to crowd their crease. Although Stalock’s numbers thus far this season would make it seem that he should be the one prioritized, that’s the exact reason why the Blackhawks are best to move him — while they still can.
Stalock’s Surprising Success in Chicago
Prior to missing nearly two months of action, Stalock had enjoyed a more successful start to the season than most would have anticipated. Acquired as a void-filler, at best, the 35-year-old had most certainly outperformed expectations through his first seven games as a Blackhawk. Especially for a netminder who only entered one NHL contest last season.
While it may seem hard to believe at this point in the campaign, given that the Blackhawks are losing far more than they’re winning of late, Stalock had actually helped the club earn a winning record during his short stint as their go-to throughout October and he’s now improved upon those results with a win in his return.
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Stalock is currently 4-2-1, with a .917 save percentage (SV%), 2.78 goals-against average (GAA), and 1.2 goals saved above expected (GSAx). Numbers that aren’t necessarily elite, yet they offer a drastic upgrade over what Chicago’s other netminders have offered up thus far. Plus, these metrics are far more impressive with some added context.
First off, rewinding the obvious regression that Stalock’s stat line had faced in recent years deserves credit in and of itself. Add in that he’s accomplished in such a manner on a Blackhawks team that is a shell of its former self, as they navigate through what’s turning into quite an ugly rebuild, and it really shines the right type of spotlight on what he’s been able to string together through 2022-23.
So much so that he should be forcing the club to rethink how they plan to extract value out of the veteran moving forward. Rather than relying on him to accumulate starts as they struggle, it’s far more strategic for them to sell Stalock to the highest bidder.
Blackhawks’ Stats Will Regress During Rebuild
As was the theory with many of the Blackhawks’ offseason acquisitions, Stalock could absolutely be part of the group that general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson had earmarked as potential trade deadline pieces to dangle in front of desperate organizations. However, waiting that long may not be worth the gamble.
If Stalock was simply proving to be a reliable veteran, good for a few starts here and there, then offering him as much laneway as possible to polish his resume before putting him up for auction would be a logical path for Davidson to take. That route would work to increase his value. Yet, he’s already climbed to a peak earlier than expected and Chicago can’t ignore what’s likely to come.
It’s best that the Blackhawks, let alone Stalock, prepare for the downturn in fortunes that’s sure to follow for as long as he remains a part of this rebuild. The reality is, while personal performances can always shine brighter than the collective at any given time, what most are able to accomplish individually generally balances out accordingly.
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Simply stated, the Blackhawks are bad and Stalock’s numbers are going to dip that way sooner than later. Regardless of how well he performs, night in and night out, what the team does in front of him will ultimately affect what he’s able to accomplish over a larger sample size. As has been evidenced by what his counterparts have experienced playing for the Blackhawks in 2022-23.
Rather than wasting any time, let alone waiting for the trade deadline to approach, Davidson would be best to get to work on marketing Stalock’s services while what he offers still shines as brightly as it has to this point in the campaign.
Davidson’s Plan Always Prioritized Youth
If this Blackhawks team was anywhere close to contending, then progressing a plan that included enjoying the surprise success of their oldest goaltender to lead the way would make sense. Stalock would be seen as a saviour, through a story that needed such characters.
Yet, Chicago entered 2022-23 with their conclusion already drafted. It seemed more than likely that the Blackhawks would struggle this season and their overall results are aligning with that presumption.
The organization can still salvage success from this narrative, though, if they shift their definition of what that means for this lineup. As was always to be Davidson’s plan, this roster’s focus has to fixate on opportunities for and development of their youth. Allowing a 35-year-old with over a decade of NHL experience to steal all the starts doesn’t quite accomplish that mandate.
“We’ll just evaluate what’s available to us. I don’t think it’s a secret where we are in the standings, so if there’s opportunity to acquire some future talent and augment what we’ve got in prospect pool or our draft asset pool, then we’ll explore that.”
Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they don’t have to look too far to find a netminder that more accurately aligns with that narrative. In fact, 23-year-old Söderblom has made himself quite comfortable in Chicago since his early-season call-up. And that’s a good thing.
Having already been permitted the most ice time among the four goalies who have suited up for the franchise in 2022-23, that Söderblom is displaying an ability to own the role is far more important than any less-than-stellar stats that compile in the meantime. Besides, anyone watching sees that he’s doing the best he can with the cards he’s been dealt. There’s only so much a goalie can be held accountable for when the rest of the roster fails to do their part.
Ultimately, the experience that Söderblom is accumulating will work to his and the club’s advantage in the years to come. Söderblom’s ability to persevere through these struggles will expedite his elevation. Meaning, when the Blackhawks improve as a unit they’ll be that much better because their goalie will have already beaten them to that point in the plan.
Blackhawks Best to Focus on Future
As most of Stalock’s teammates who also enjoyed hot starts to the season have seen that presence diminish accordingly, falling victim to the same trend is only a few starts away for the netminder. It’s not that he’s incapable, but his team has proven to be.
Chicago’s on-ice impact won’t be improving through 2022-23, so they might as well focus on their activity off of it. Not only will extracting increased value out of Stalock ensure their return is a better one, but letting him move on clears the way for Söderblom to occupy Chicago’s crease as much as possible moving forward.
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A tradeoff that works to influence a more fruitful future, which is what a rebuild is supposed to prioritize after all.