Going into the 2020-21 season, the Blackhawks declared an open competition among their three goaltenders in Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban. They wanted to see which one would take advantage of the opportunity and emerge as a potential starter.
Here's how the first six games went down: Subban started the season opener (.848 save percentage), Delia started the next two (.863 save percentage) and Lankinen started the next three (.909 save percentage).
From that point forward, Delia never got a look again prior to Tuesday's start and was relegated to the taxi squad all season. The only game action he had over that stretch was four starts with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs on a conditioning stint before the Blackhawks were forced to call him back up because he was not waiver exempt.
Delia is the only one on the roster who hasn't gotten consistent playing time at either level this season, whether it's the AHL or NHL. He drew the short end of the stick. And despite all that, he's handling his situation like a true pro.
"It’s been challenging, but you’ve got to be thankful for the opportunity to even be in this situation to begin with," Delia said. "I’m very thankful to be a part of the organization and I’m thankful to compete and work with some amazing individuals every day. Although it has been challenging, it’s also super gratifying to be here and to be part of such a great organization."
It's no surprise the Blackhawks rode Lankinen as the starter for the majority of the season. He emerged as an early Calder Trophy candidate after going 7-2-3 with a 2.29 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and one shutout in his first 12 starts.
The challenge for Delia was the fact Subban was performing just as well as Lankinen, albeit in a backup role. Over his next four starts across a one-month span, Subban went 3-0-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average, .952 save percentage and one shutout.
Neither deserved to be taken out of the rotation.
"It’s challenging when you’re not playing, but you have to remember that it’s a team game," Delia said. "Lanky and Subby absolutely carried us as far as we’ve come this year. They’ve done an excellent job, so I'm just trying to be a cheerleader for them and support them the best I can and talk about certain things that I’m seeing in their game, to be another observer and give some constructive criticism.
"So if that’s my role up to this point, so be it. But I love to play, I love to compete and I’m super grateful for this opportunity."
On Monday, Delia was back between the pipes after stopping all 19 shots in a relief appearance against the Carolina Hurricanes. He followed that the next day with his first start since Jan. 17 and gave up four goals on 26 shots but was far from the reason the Blackhawks lost 6-3.
"I thought he was solid," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He was strong for us, he made some big saves. Not much to complain about there."
Four starts isn't a large enough sample size to evaluate a goaltender, especially given the circumstances this season. And there's only so much you can accomplish at practice. Can he still prove something to the coaching staff?
"I think for him it’s just doing what he can with his opportunity now," Colliton said. "You can’t control what happened before. As a player, that’s all you can do. Put your best foot forward, and then you let the chips fall."
With three games left, it's unclear whether or not Delia will get into another game again this season. But his mindset isn't going to change."Honestly, I just want to battle for the team," Delia said. "It’s definitely been a long, long road for me but my focus is just trying to help the team win as best I can. And if that’s playing or if that’s playing in a supportive role, so be it. Whatever I’m called to do, I’m just going to try and be ready regardless."