There are a lot of people in Chicago that are ready to buy the gas that send
rookie netminder Alexander Salak to Rockford. In the eyes of the masses, the
Hawks must have a veteran to back up Corey Crawford this season, or they’re
taking a huge, avoidable risk.
The perception that the Blackhawks will fail without a veteran backup is
built on sand, not concrete. And that sand holds very little water.
For the last three seasons, the Blackhawks have entered a season with a
veteran starter. In each of the last two, the backup on Opening Night was a
relatively untested rookie.
In each of the past three seasons, the goalie slotted to be the backup wound
up starting the bulk of the Hawks’ games. Nikolai Khabibulin, Antti Niemi and
Corey Crawford weren’t supposed to be the starter, but forced their way onto the
ice and, eventually, won the job.
Meanwhile, the veterans on those three rosters that were supposed to start
because of their experience – Cristobal Huet and Marty Turco – had capacity
crowds at the United Center ready and willing to drive them to any city in the
country where the Hawks weren’t playing.
The idea that NHL experience makes a goalie better has some merit, but it
shouldn’t be a requirement for the job. The winner of the competition to backup
Crawford should go to the best goalie, not simply the guy who’s played more than
3 NHL games before.
So far in training camp, Salak has looked adequate. Great? No. Good enough?
So far in training camp, Ray Emery has looked mediocre, if not slow and
lacking adequate flexibility. Does he look good enough to be an NHL backup this
year? Honestly, no.
A highly respected site that evaluates goalies, The Goalie Guild, has written
about Salak on a number of occasions. Here is one of their better write-ups on Salak from this summer.
Last year, the Blackhawks were forced to find respectable-yet-affordable players to fill their roster because of financial limitations. Those limitations are gone; the Hawks are more than $3M under the cap this year.
The idea that a veteran is a must as the backup can be thrown away. The Blackhawks can, and should, afford the best possible players on the roster this year. If that means Salak is the man, so be it.