Training Camp Questions: The Backup Goalie

For the first time in what seems forever, the Blackhawks go into training camp with absolutely no questions about their starting goaltender.

That hasn't happened since Training Camp of '07, when Nikolai Khabibulin was manning the pipes for 40 games, being bad for 20 of them, and being hurt for the rest.

Since then the Hawks have juggled Khabby, Cristobal Huet, Antti Niemi, Marty Turco, and Corey Crawford. Crawford has ended all that discussion for now. It almost certainly means something will go wrong, but let's run that kitten over later.

All that's left for the Hawks to settle then is who will back him up. There are two candidates: Rookie Alex Salak, who was acquired in the Michael Frolik-Jack Skille deal, and veteran Ray Emery, who was signed on a tryout basis.

What makes this more intriguing is that neither one of these guys will get much time to prove who should get the job. There are six preseason games, and you have to figure Crawford needs at least two of those to be sharp for the regular season. Most likely he'll need two and a half. That leaves only three games and a half of another to get their work in. That's most likely not even 120 minutes of work to prove to the coaches you should be the guy.

That limited time should hand a slight edge to Emery. The Hawks already have a boatload of evidence of Emery in the NHL. The last of which came in Anaheim, where he was very impressive in helping to backstop the Ducks to the playoffs. He's been through all of this before. All things being equal, you'd go with the guy with NHL experience. It's a whole tie-goes-to-the-runner thing.

Salak, on the other hand, only has one year in North America, and that's in the AHL. While the Hawks are very high on him, he's going to have to clearly outplay Emery to get the job. They can send Salak to Rockford. They can't do that to Emery. They can season Salak a bit. If both play well, the option of keeping Emery and then dealing him when another team's goalie goes down is very attractive. It's also beneficial to have Salak earn his job, instead of being handed it, just like Corey Crawford did last year.

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