As far as Chicago Blackhawks fans are concerned, 2013-14 has been an excellent season for goaltending. Corey Crawford is now once again fully healthy, Nikolai Khabibulin is nowhere in sight and the Blackhawks have found an excellent backup goaltender in prospect Antti Raanta.
Raanta has been solid in his time as both a starter and backup, allowing 2.25 goals per game with a .911 save percentage as of this writing. This puts team management in an awful position once the offseason arrives. Raanta is a restricted free agent, and some say he can receive an offer as high as $4 million per year. While that is a bit ludicrous, thanks to Raanta’s age (24) and a rising salary cap, one team could put the Blackhawks in a bad situation.
In the AHL, the Blackhawks have Jason LaBarbera who was acquired via trade earlier this season. While the 33-year-old LaBarbera actually counts only slightly more against the cap than Raanta, he is also an unrestricted free agent after this season. If the Blackhawks lose Raanta and go for the cheaper LaBarbera, they would inherit his declining stats behind Crawford.
LaBarbera replaced Kent Simpson in Rockford. Simpson was at one point the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender, and in his lone sample of NHL action he allowed two goals on seven shots. Both he and other Blackhawks prospect Mac Carruth have minimal potential and are nowhere near ready to enter the NHL.
What benefits the Blackhawks is a strong backup goaltender unrestricted free agent group this year which, despite still not having a strong goaltending prospect in the minors, would mask the problem at the NHL level.
Top to bottom, Ben Scrivens is due for a payday and will receive it from someone. In 19 appearances this season, Scrivens allowed only 1.97 goals per game and had a .931 save percentage. Anton Khudobin has appeared in nine games for the Carolina Hurricanes and has displayed similar numbers.
More realistically, the Blackhawks could also sign current backup Al Montoya who is only currently paid $600,000. They could also re-sign former AHL starter Carter Hutton, who the team let walk this offseason and has shown potential in his first NHL season.
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