Craig Anderson/Brian Boucher/Patrick Lalime/Christobal Huet/Nikolai Khabibulin/Antti Niemi/Marty Turco, and now Corey Crawford. For the past five years, those have been the names of the goalies that have passed through before Crawford was given a chance to start. He is the kind of player the Blackhawks have been looking for at goalie. The home-grown talent was selected in the 2nd round of the 2003 NHL draft (52nd overall) by the Hawks and has been groomed in the AHL with hopes of one day being the starting net-minder for the big team. The Hawks and Crawford have invested many years in each other, and it should now pay off for both sides. The Blackhawks will be investing in one of the best technically sound goalies in the NHL. He has proven he has what it takes to play a full NHL season and also be able to hold his own in the playoffs. Crawford was spectacular in the playoffs for the Blackhawks and almost brought them back from a 0-3 deficit to upset the best team in the NHL. It certainly wasn’t because of Crawford’s play that the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs. On a stage no bigger, Game 7 between the Canucks and Hawks, Crawford showed his chops and kept the Hawks in it until the very end. The series was physically and mentally draining for all, but Crawford was brilliant in giving the Hawks a chance with his play in net. In the end, the Hawks came up short, but the valuable experience earned will be something Crawford can use going forward in the coming years. Here’s a look at the reasons Crawford will be offered an extension and be the option in net for the next few years:
The Blackhawks certainly have a core group in place who will contend for the Cup every year for at least the next five years. What they have not had is stability at the goalie position over the past decade. Nine different goalies including Crawford have donned the red sweaters for the Hawks since 2006 with none of them being able to stick as the primary choice for more than a year or two. They have shuffled the deck at the position for far too long. Crawford is the answer. He is a young goalie who only wants to get better, and when given the chance, I think he will lead the Hawks to another Stanley Cup before it’s all said and done. When an organization has a special group in place, the last thing you want to do is not give them that final piece of the puzzle. With Crawford getting an extension, it will shore up the position for the first time since Eddie the Eagle Belfour was in net for eight years straight in the early nineties.
While I am not crowning Corey Crawford the next Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur, which would be unfair and certainly too early, I am saying that Crawford certainly has all the necessary tools to have a great career and win a Stanley Cup. You just never know when the next great goalie is going to show up and surely do not want to let one go with a bright future in front of him (see Hasek, Dominik). Whether or not Crawford becomes that special player, the Hawks organization owes it to them to not let another one get away. Hasek was traded away early in his career and won two Stanley Cups and is a hall of famer. Ed Belfour was traded away and wound up winning a Cup with the Dallas Stars a few years later. Crawford has a lot to accomplish before being in the same breath as those goalies, but my point still stands. You just never know when a great one is in front of you, and the Hawks have to take a shot with the group they have to try and win another Cup before their time is up.
The Blackhawks will most definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Lead by captain Jonathan Toews, the core players are locked up for the foreseeable future. They have committed a great deal of money to those players and just need to fill out the roster with the right group of players to have another crack at the Cup. In my opinion, Crawford is one of the final pieces to the puzzle. He has shown he is ready to make the leap in his career and has complete trust from his teammates to lead them in the future. The Hawks will soon sign Crawford to a multi-year extension and then it will be up to the players to perform. They have all the resources and skills to become a staple atop the NHL for years to come. The mold they have used to build this team is through the draft and knowing where to find value in trading for certain players. They acquired many key pieces in the Cup winning team via trade for players that did not fit their old teams. Patrick Sharp, and Andrew Ladd were traded for peanuts and turned out to be two of the best Blackhawks in the playoffs in 2010. Their home-grown kids of Seabrook, Keith, Toews, Kane, and Dave Bolland all had a tremendous impact on winning the Stanley Cup. Look for many organizations to build their teams in the same mold and the Blackhawks to continue to grow from within and continue to know when to keep or let go of assets.
To take anything away from Corey Crawford’s ability would be wrong, but if the Hawks were in the market for a goalie, there would not be a goalie out there with more upside than Crawford. He truly is their best option going forward. We have seen in past years teams making splashes in the free agent market with it rarely panning out. Teams have over paid for goal tending, and finding a good one to lead your team for many years are few and far between. Crawford is young enough to be able to do that for the Blackhawks. At 26 years old, Crawford has the prime of career in front of him and will only get better with more years of service under his belt. The Hawks have many players with the prime of their careers in front of them. They have the luxury of being an extremely young and talented team. Look for the Blackhawks to continue to lock up players who are a necessity to be relevant for multiple years in the NHL. Over the past few years, they have shown a commitment to the core group and has already paid dividends with one Stanley Cup already and possibly more to come.
Corey Crawford was more than the Blackhawks were looking for this year. The consistently good to great play in net was what they have been waiting for from him. His performance in the stretch run to get into the playoffs and in the first round against the Canucks was worth the amount of money they are going to pay him shortly. Crawford’s focus and determination to win will allow him to be successful in this league. He has shown the ability to make unbelievable saves in clutch situations. In order to reach his full potential, he must continue to work hard on his craft and never become complacent with his situation in the organization. I believe he is showing us a quick glimpse of things to come in the future, and from what he has shown, all signs point positive outcomes ahead. When the Hawks sign him to a multi-year extension this coming summer, it will finally shore up a position that they have struggled to find stability and consistent play from. Conn Smythe winner Corey Crawford does have a great ring to it.
Be sure to check out my column from last week on the players who do not fit for 2011-2012.
Also, Follow me on twitter @lj3315.