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What Corey Crawford Has to Do to Get to the Level of the NHL's Elite Goalkeepers

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2014

Sep 23, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) takes a shot on Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) during the second period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Corey Crawford may be the key to the Chicago Blackhawks' chances of having a successful 2014-15 season.

With a roster that is clearly one of the most talented in the NHL and a team that has won two Stanley Cups in the last five years, a successful season means winning a championship.

Crawford was sensational in the 2013 playoffs when the Blackhawks won their last Stanley Cup, and he was good last season when they were defeated in overtime of the seventh game by the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.

However, Crawford was not as consistent in 2013-14 as the league's upper-echelon goalies. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie, and his top competition included Jonathan Quick of the Kings, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.

Crawford, who had a 32-16-10 record along with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, was a notch below that foursome. 

It seemed that Crawford's consistency was the key issue that kept him from playing at his best. He regularly allowed goals that appeared to be stoppable. While he made many spectacular, eye-opening saves that left his teammates, coaches and fans with their mouths agape, he would also pull away from medium- and long-range shots or leave vulnerable rebounds that opponents cashed in with little trouble.

The Blackhawks noticed Crawford's issues, and they brought in a new goaltending coach.

Stephane Waite had been Chicago's goaltending coach through the 2013 campaign, but he left after the championship season to take a similar position with the Canadiens.

The Blackhawks hired Steve Weeks as their goaltending coach last year, but head coach Joel Quenneville did not bring him back. Instead, the team hired former Hawks goaltender Jimmy Waite to serve as the goaltending coach and as Crawford's new mentor.

Waite hopes to have the same kind of rapport with Crawford that his brother enjoyed with the goaltender and that his performance improves enough to get the Blackhawks back to the Stanley Cup Final.

“I’m very excited to come back to the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that drafted me in 1987,” said Waite in a statement. “I look forward to working with Corey (Crawford) and Antti (Raanta), and to help contribute to the success of this organization.”

The Blackhawks can almost certainly live with a similar regular-season performance from Crawford this year. However, it's vital that he show more consistency in the playoffs.

Crawford had a 2.53 GAA and a .912 save percentage in the postseason, but even more than the numbers, he would lose his consistency and concentration at the wrong times. He struggled early in the first-round series with the St. Louis Blues and had a meeting with head coach Joel Quenneville after the Blackhawks lost the first two games of the series.

Quenneville didn't reveal any specifics of the conversation other than that he praised Crawford for his straight-forward remarks about needing to improve, per David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune.

Waite is expected to make sure that Crawford is sharper in his fundamentals and positioning. This means that the goalie will be more aware and consistent in his stance, glove positioning and aggressiveness during the upcoming season.

Crawford will share the regular-season goaltending duties with Antti Raanta. While Crawford will certainly start the majority of games, the Blackhawks need Raanta to be consistent when he gets his opportunities.

If that happens, Crawford should be fresh by the time the postseason rolls around. That's when Crawford will earn his $6.5 million salary. If the Blackhawks get to the Stanley Cup Final and win it, that will prove that the Blackhawks made a wise investment in their goaltender.