It’s been a few days since the Chicago Blackhawks traded beloved goaltender Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for goaltender Malcolm Subban, defensive prospect Stanislav Demin, and a second-round pick.
It’s very easy as a spectator of the sport to have a knee-jerk reaction to trades as they happen. Now that the dust has settled, I still stand by my reaction when I first heard of the trade; that it was a redundant trade. Before we get into that, I want to talk about the focal point of the trade package: Subban.
Introducing Malcolm Subban
Just by the name “Subban”, you may already be familiar with the name in the NHL as it also applies to Malcolm’s brother, New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban. Malcolm has a one-up on his brother, however, as he was a first-round pick, whereas P.K. was a second-round pick. Malcolm was selected by the Boston Bruins in 2012. He spent two seasons there, where he barely played. He was behind illustrious goaltender Tuukka Rask, so the opportunity to play is scarce in that role.
Moreover, the opportunities in which he did play, weren’t exactly a success. In his debut game in 2015, he allowed three goals on three shots against the St. Louis Blues. In his debut the following season, 2016, he allowed 2 goals in 12 seconds. The Bruins then placed him on waivers in October of 2017, and he was then claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Viva Las Vegas
Subban turned out to be a pretty good fit for the Knights to start. Obviously, a first-round pick isn’t going to go away that easily because the potential doesn’t just disappear. He got a chance to prove that when the Knights star goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a concussion only a few days after Subban was claimed off of waivers. Subban did well in Fleury’s absence. He went 7-0-2 with a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA).
In the 2018-19 season, he went 8-10 with a 2.93 GAA. He showed that he was on the right track of development. This season, however, has not been kind to him. He has gone 9-7 with his GAA being 3.18 and his save percentage (SV%) at .890, so he has slipped a little bit. Something you can take from his prior two seasons is that he had a level of consistency to his game, aside from this season. His final save percentage from his three seasons with Vegas is .901. There is room for improvement for him.
No Weak Link
This is what Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said to the Chicago Tribune after the Lehner for Subban trade happened:
Long term, we’re in a better position. We have some additional assets now.Stan Bowman (from ‘Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman opts to look to the future with deadline trades of Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson: ‘There’s no question we’re positioned better down the road’, Chicago Tribune– 02/24/2020)
It seems from that quote, we can infer that Bowman looks at Subban to be a depth piece. Here’s the issue I have with it: the Hawks don’t necessarily need goalie depth. Surprisingly, during the past decade, it’s been the one position that has never been weak for the club. Between Corey Crawford, Antti Niemi, Scott Darling, and more, Blackhawk goaltending has been superb. Heck, even the Blackhawks emergency goaltender, Scott Foster, was great during his game back in 2018.
In the current goalie pipeline, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Matt Tomkins all playing for Chicago’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs. Delia has a .901 SV%, Lankinen has a .909 SV%, and Tomkins has an .897 SV%. The bottom line is that all of them have been playing well enough for the Icehogs to want to take on three goalies instead of two for the season. But, most of the eyes are on Delia.
He has already played in 18 games for the Hawks, making him more established. And, in that time span, he has shown glimpses of how great he could be in the future. Remember this outstanding save from him during the game against the Washington Capitals last January?
The Blackhawks signed Delia to a three-year extension in 2019. Tomkins just signed a two-year deal in January, and Lankinen is currently on the last year of his contract. After adding Subban to the middle of a very crowded goalie group, it brings up a lot of questions as to what exactly the direction is for the franchise’s goalies.
Right now is Subban’s time to shine. If he impresses as Crawford’s backup for the rest of the season, it may force Bowman’s hand and he will have to make some tough decisions. On the contrary, Subban will be a free agent after this season, so if he doesn’t pan out, the Hawks can let him walk with no consequence to them. Subban’s acquisition makes me wonder since Lankinen is coming off his contract as well if Bowman will let Lankinen walk and just continue with Subban, Delia, and Tomkins as their prospects.
Keep in mind that Blackhawks starting goalie, Corey Crawford, is coming off his six-year deal too, and his future is unknown with him being 35 years old. This makes Bowman’s decision making that much more crucial to solidify their goalie of the future.
Maybe in hindsight, Bowman is looking at Subban as wanting to give him a shot to earn that position and let Crawford walk after this year. They could also use the goalies as trade bait to refill their prospect pool. Overall, though, it just seems like the Hawks added more stress to a position that didn’t need attending to. If there is anything Bowman should have learned by now is to definitely not fix what’s not broken.
I know that most had hoped that Lehner would end up being the goalie of the future. It was tough to see him get dealt, but now that the chapter is closed with him, we have to focus on the other assets. I will say that if there is any position that is set to thrive in the Hawks organization, it’s goaltending, and Subban fits that mold. If he turns out to be fantastic, then that won’t be disappointing by any means.
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It may be a little excessive with more goalies to keep track of, but it has been a trying season for the Hawks. With that, growth and opportunities to play for their newer talent is something that the Blackhawks and their fans want to evaluate. All I can say for Chicago sports fans is that they are going to get a goalie duel that will be like the recent Chicago Bears kicking competition. It should make for a very entertaining showing.