The Chicago Blackhawks own the NHL's best record and have continued to win games on a consistent basis after their record-setting 24-game point streak to start the season was snapped by the Colorado Avalanche on March 8.
Goaltending has been one of the key reasons behind Chicago's success this season with Corey Crawford and Ray Emery combining for a 24-3-3 record.
With that said, the Blackhawks' first round playoff series defeats in each of the last two years has caused some people to doubt Crawford's ability to carry this team on a championship run. He's played great in the regular season thus far, but the playoffs are a whole different situation.
Should Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman try to acquire a big-name goaltender before the April 3 trade deadline, or keep his current duo intact for the 2013 playoffs?
Along with captain Jarome Iginla and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester, Kiprusoff’s name is front and centre among the Calgary Flames on the trading block. This is, never forget, arguably the best puck-repeller of the world’s best league over the past decade.
Even at 36, he could be a difference-tipper for an ambitious organization looking to make a post-season splash.
Chicago is rumoured to be sniffing around. Toronto, too. Any team with Stanley Cup aspirations that needs shoring up between the pipes would be unbelievably daft not to at least inquire about the possibility.
Kiprusoff has a much better NHL resume than both Crawford and Emery, but at this stage of his career, he's not a good fit on this Blackhawks team.
Goaltending, defense and penalty killing have not been problems for the Blackhawks this year. Chicago ranks third in goals against, has strong defensive depth with Johnny Oduya, Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy having tremendous seasons and its penalty kill ranks ninth in the league with an 83.3 percent success rate.
Kiprusoff has been forced to play over 70 games in every season since the 2004-05 lockout because the Flames have been without a quality backup, which is why it's no surprise that he leads all goaltenders in games played over the last seven years. That's a lot of wear and tear for a goaltender in his mid-thirties.
Should the Blackhawks pursue Kiprusoff?
When you also consider Kiprusoff's recent injury problems (he's been healthy for just 13 of Calgary's 28 games this year), there's no guarantee that he would be able to stay healthy for a deep playoff run that could extend into late June.
If this was the Kiprusoff of a few years ago, making a trade for him would be a smart move for Bowman and the Blackhawks, but the Finnish star is past the prime of his career and not the top-three goaltender he used to be.
Another problem with acquiring Kiprusoff is the large salary cap hit in his contract, which does not expire until the end of the 2013-14 season.
Right now, the Blackhawks have just over $5 million in cap space with 17 players signed for next season, which is when the cap ceiling drops from about $70 million to $64.3 million. Adding Kiprusoff's $5.83 million cap hit could limit Bowman's salary cap flexibility for next year, especially at the trade deadline.
In addition to Kiprusoff's age, durability and salary concerns, acquiring him would likely cost the Blackhawks a couple valuable trade assets, because the Flames are not going to give their franchise goaltender away without getting great value in return. Since he's not an upcoming UFA, Calgary will be in no rush to move him.
Chicago has some good young players at the NHL level who might interest the Flames in a possible trade for Kiprusoff, such as Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Leddy, but parting with these players so early in their careers would be a foolish decision.
Saad and Shaw provide important depth to the Blackhawks' lineup when veteran forwards such as Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland are not able to play because of injuries, while Leddy is looking more and more like a future top-four defenseman with each game.
The best decision for Bowman to make in regard to his goaltending situation for the rest of 2013 is to follow the old cliché, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Crawford and Emery have been two of the Blackhawks' most valuable players this season, and as the chart below shows, they are quickly becoming one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL and top candidates for the William M. Jennings Trophy.
|2013 Stats ||W/L/OT||GAA||SV%||SO|
Crawford is playing the best hockey of his career and is well on his way to setting multiple career highs. He's giving the Blackhawks a chance to win in almost every game and has looked a lot more comfortable and confident in net than he did last season.
As for Emery, he has been the most impressive backup goalie in the NHL this season and is 5-0 against teams currently in a playoff spot in the Western Conference. He also brings a wealth of playoff experience to the lineup.
When you have two good goaltenders playing at a high level, who also get along with each other, it's a situation that general managers shouldn't mess with. The Blackhawks have beaten quality opponents with this goaltending tandem all season, and there's no reason to believe that this success will stop once the playoffs begin.
Is Crawford capable of leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final?
After Crawford struggled last season following an impressive rookie year, a lot of people began to question his ability to lead a Stanley Cup contender as a No. 1 goalie, but to his credit, he's had a tremendous bounce-back season and is showing the consistency that head coach Joel Quenneville and Bowman expected from him.
Crawford and Emery deserve to go into the playoffs as the Blackhawks' two goaltenders, and unless Bowman is going to acquire a top-tier goaltender who's younger than Kiprusoff, such as Buffalo Sabres star Ryan Miller, adding another goalie to his roster doesn't make any sense, especially if it would result in the Blackhawks giving up some of their valuable depth at forward and/or on the blue line.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL lead writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs. All salary information courtesy of Capgeek.