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Collin Delia could be Blackhawks’ odd goalie out when Corey Crawford returns

Collin Delia’s three-year contract extension came at the perfect time — right when the Blackhawks must weigh whether to send him back to the minors.

Despite a strong rookie season, Delia could be the odd man out when longtime goalie Corey Crawford comes off injured reserve. That’s not ideal, but it’s easier to tolerate the demotion with the security of knowing you’re part of the team’s blueprint regardless of how the last two months of this season unfold.

“Nothing’s guaranteed,” Delia said. “If anything, it lights a fire under my butt even more — just be even more hungry. If I can give any more, I’m going to find it.

“Just to have that show of confidence is huge. To know that hopefully I’m within the plan the next couple of years here is awesome.”

Blackhawks rookie goaltender Collin Delia gave up six goals in the loss to the Bruins and could be headed to the minors when Corey Crawford returns. | Michael Dwyer/AP

Crawford’s return seems inevitable now. The Hawks opened a roster spot by putting David Kampf on IR, and Crawford was full-go in their morning skate before they faced the Devils on Thursday. It might be a slow progression, but the assumption is he will reclaim his place as the team’s No. 1 goalie.

While the Hawks would love to see Crawford back on the ice, putting him back on the active roster creates a surplus with Delia and Cam Ward. It’s unconventional for any team to carry three goalies, and Ward’s no-movement clause bars the team from doing anything with him.

Even if they wanted to keep all three active, there wouldn’t be many starts available for Delia. He might be better off in Rockford, so he can keep playing.

“Whether I’m going down to Rockford, I’m just going to continue to work hard and progress, so come playoff time, I’m up here as a black ace or whatever,” Delia said. “I’m going to have to be ready at all times.”

Delia said last week that he is rooting for Crawford’s comeback regardless of what it means for him.

With Ward’s contract up at the end of this season and Crawford’s expiring after 2019-20, Delia is the Hawks’ goalie of the future. He has been good overall, posting a team-best .916 save percentage and 3.22 goals-against average, but he has been hot and cold.

His first five starts were spectacular as he wrested the position from Ward, but his play has been choppy since then. Meanwhile, Ward reasserted himself with a .940 save percentage in four games, and his start against the Devils was his seventh in the last 11.

Delia saved 40 of 43 shots in an overtime win against the Canucks last week, then had his worst performance of the season in giving up six goals to the Bruins in a loss Tuesday.

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That was his first start after signing the $3  million extension, which is team-friendly as far as the salary cap but also reassures him as he rides out the highs and lows of the position, including the possibility of an upcoming return to Rockford.

“I expect this to help his confidence, knowing that he’s not playing game to game,” general manager Stan Bowman said this week. “We believe in him, and we want him to be with us for a long time.”

Coach Jeremy Colliton, who rarely blames the goaltending, acknowledged the Bruins game was rough for Delia but pointed out that the Hawks’ defense allowed many high-quality opportunities.

Delia looked at it clinically, like he would any other game, and that’s a big part of what makes him well-equipped to keep growing. He referenced Thomas Edison’s failures while trying to invent the light bulb, which Edison described as steps toward an end game rather than errors.

“It’s iterations,” Delia said. “You want to be a professional and you want to come ready and be prepared, but sometimes you’re gonna fall short. It’s hard to take those lessons because it’s at the expense of winning, but I want to try to close that gap and lessen that learning curve.”