The Chicago Blackhawks were very fortunate this past summer when goaltender Robin Lehner practically fell into their laps. Lehner was coming off of a season in which many felt he should have captured a Vezina Trophy for his outstanding performance with the New York Islanders, but a rumored personal conflict between Lehner and Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello put an end to the relationship between Lehner and the Islanders. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman instead got Lehner on a very team friendly type of contract, but the consequences of that move are now seemingly readily apparent.
In a recent piece for The Athletic, Chicago Blackhawks insider Mark Lazerus made a number of predictions regarding the direction the Blackhawks will be moving in for the future, and among those predictions was a sobering statement about the future of beloved goaltender Corey Crawford. Crawford is of course a staple of the franchise at this point in his career and fans have been through thick and thin with him from Stanley Cup Championships all the way to a serious injury that was at one time believed to be career threatening. It is for that reason that fans will struggle to imagine a world in which not only could Crawford no longer be a member of the Blackhawks organization, but one in which he would be a member of a rival team. In spite of that however Lazerus, arguably the best Blackhawks insider in the business, believes that Crawford's time in Chicago will end either during the 2019 - 2020 National Hockey League regular season or just after that season has been all wrapped up.
Lehner’s the man around here now. It’s always difficult to picture a member of the Blackhawks’ glory years wearing a different jersey, but Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya were Stars, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote, and Crawford — who has proven this season that he can still be a solid goaltender in this league — will follow suit.
Lehner wants to be paid based on his statistics like any other goalie would. And his statistics say he’s one of the best goalies in the league. If he gets, say, four years at $32 million, there simply won’t be room for Crawford. The Blackhawks have $11 million tied up in their goalies this season, but they can’t do it again next year, not with Alex DeBrincat’s new deal kicking in, and Dylan Strome due a big raise, too. Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia will battle it out for the right to back up Lehner in the fall.
The silver lining here is of course the fact that the Blackhawks have supplanted Crawford as their goaltender for good reason. In spite of his pedigree as a star level goaltender in the NHL there is no question that Lehner is currently the superior performer between the pipes. The Islanders no doubt are looking at his performances in Chicago this season with envy, in spite of the fact that their own goaltending has been very solid, and I would be shocked if Stan Bowman repeated the mistakes of Lou Lamoriello moving forward.