Could Delia be Chicago Blackhawks' backup goalie next season?

 
 
Updated 5/27/2018 7:17 PM
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  • Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia makes a save of a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, March 30, 2018, in Denver.

    Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia makes a save of a shot off the stick of a Colorado Avalanche player in the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, March 30, 2018, in Denver.

  • Goalie Collin Delia

    Goalie Collin Delia

Corey Crawford and … Collin Delia?

Could that really be the goalie combination for the Chicago Blackhawks next season?

The way Delia has performed for the Rockford IceHogs this season -- and especially in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs when he went 7-0 with a .948 save percentage and 1.64 goals-against average -- that would seem to be a possibility.

"I don't know my path," Delia said after Jeff Glass made 28 saves in Rockford's Game 4 victory over Texas on Thursday in the Western Conference final. "In some ways it's out of my hands, but I can control my effort on the ice and how well I play. All the other decisions that are above my head, I just have to kind of relinquish it."

Before we get to whether Delia might jump over Anton Forsberg or J-F Berube to become Crawford's backup, let's show you just how far the 23-year-old has come in his first year as a pro.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Delia -- from Rancho Cucamonga, California -- began this season with the ECHL's Indy Fuel, a team two levels below the Blackhawks.

Even though Delia was struggling in Indy, he nonetheless earned a call-up to Rockford on Nov. 5. After a bit of shuttling back and forth between the two franchises, he grabbed the starting job for the IceHogs in late December when Berube was hurt.

Delia, much like Glass told us in the Blackhawks' locker room earlier this season, raved about how goalie coach Peter Aubry helped develop his game in Rockford.

"He just made me aware of the level of detail that goes into being successful, not only here but eventually in the NHL," Delia said.

As difficult as it was -- especially after that tough start in Indy -- Delia stopped worrying about the numbers and instead focused on how he was playing.

"The game kind of slowed down," said Delia, who went 17-7-3 with a .900 save percentage for Rockford in the regular season. "I was able to be a little bit more cerebral about how I prepared, and I wasn't so concerned with how I was going to stop the puck.

"It was just like I know I'm going to be there. Just go out and play."

As good as Delia has been, he hit a speed bump against Texas, the team Rockford is trying to get past in the Western Conference final.

Game 6 is Monday, and Glass likely will get the net for a third straight contest after Delia allowed 13 goals in Games 1-3. Delia's rebound control became a bit of an issue, and the Stars potted a few cheap goals that helped them take control of the series.

Now let's circle back to the original question: Could Delia realistically back up Crawford?

Perhaps, but it probably would take a heck of a summer and/or general manager Stan Bowman moving Forsberg or Berube. All three are signed through 2018-19.

Most goalies need to cut their teeth in the AHL or overseas before facing the best players in the world.

There are many examples, but a few of the best reside in the Central Division as Crawford (255 games with Rockford), Nashville's Pekka Rinne (145 games in Milwaukee), Minnesota's Devan Dubnyk (128 games in Springfield) and Dallas' Ben Bishop (175 games with Peoria and Binghamton) all spent plenty of time in the minors. Even Forsberg played 126 games in the AHL before backing up Crawford in 2017-18.

It stands to reason that Delia could use at least a year or two in Rockford before the Hawks consider giving him 20-25 games as a backup.

"I understand what you're saying," Delia said when I asked him if he agrees with that train of thought. "It is important.

"I was talking to Crow in training camp, and he just has this levelheadedness about him. That obviously comes from having some trials and tribulations and going through the system and being patient, putting in the work and still getting better even though sometimes you're frustrated with where you are.

"You always want to do better and be more. There's always that push for progression. With him, that was evident and was something I could see just by conversing with him."

Mark Bernard, the Hawks' senior director of minor-league affiliations, said this issue will be worked out in September and October. He didn't rule out Delia leapfrogging Forsberg and Berube, pointing to the Nashville Predators' Juuse Sarros as an example of a young backup goalie who spent time in both leagues fine-tuning his craft.

"It is important that young goalies do see games," Bernard said. "Nashville did a great job this year with Saros shuttling him back and forth. When he wasn't playing in Nashville he went down and played some games in Milwaukee.

"But we'll let training camp settle all those things."

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