The Blackhawks running with a hot rookie goaltender down the stretch isn’t anything new for hockey fans. Last year, it was Antti Niemi who snatched the starting job from Cristobal Huet mid-season and led them all the way to the Cup. The Blackhawks are hoping to catch the same kind of lightning from Corey Crawford in this year’s playoffs. The difference, however, is that the Blackhawks may have learned their lesson last year and are trying to lock-up the rookie netminder before a good playoff performance could price him out of town. They’ve seen it before. They probably don’t want to see it again (the goaltender leaving thing, not the Cup thing).
The 26-year-old pending restricted free agent is currently bringing in $800,000. Needless to say, his stellar season has him in line for a raise. Stan Bowman sat down with Chris Boden of CSNChicago.com to discuss the Blackhawks’ plans with Crawford.
“We’ve reached out and we’re gonna try to do something here. The timing is delicate and you don’t want it to become a distraction but we certainly have an interest in trying to get something done. I think he’s performed very well for us this year. Looking back from where he’s come – not only having a foothold in the NHL at the beginning, when he started a handful of games, but watching his progression as he’s gotten more responsibility, he’s risen to the challenge. That’s what you look for in goaltenders. When they get the increased workload, can they handle it? He’s kind of unflappable and doesn’t get rattled by much. I think that’s a strength of his. He’s obviously talented. He’s got the physical capabilities, but the mental side is important as well, and he’s been rock-solid for us.”
To say the time is delicate is like saying the sun is kind of hot. The Blackhawks have been one of the hottest teams in the competitive Western Conference; but they’ll need to continue their hot play down the stretch if they want to get to the playoffs to defend last June’s Stanley Cup. Going into the night, they were tied with the Kings and Predators for the 5th seed in the West—but they were also only two points ahead of the Dallas Stars who are currently in 9th place. More importantly, they’re two points into a playoff spot.
Over the course of the season, Crawford is rocking a 29-14-5 record with a .918 save percentage and a sparkling 2.28 goals against average. But the reason the timing is so interesting is that Crawford has been playing so well over the last stretch of games. In his last 15 games, he’s 11-2-2 with a pair of shutouts. But when the focus is narrowed to the last 7 games, he’s only 3-2-2 and has been pulled twice. With Bowman speaking out that they’re negotiating a contract, it’s only natural to wonder if that’s had to do anything with the recent slip in his play. Shutouts like the one he had last night against Florida will certainly quiet the questions though.
Bowman and the Blackhawks looking to lock-up a young player shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. They already have six players under contract until the end of the 2014-2015 season. They have eight players signed up through the end of the 2014 season if you include Dave Bolland and Nicklas Hjalmarsson’s contracts. Marty Turco’s contract comes off the books at the end of the season so some of the goaltender money can go to the guy they’re depending on to win games.
This offseason the Blackhawks will have to make decisions on Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer, and Jordan Hendry. In addition, newcomers Michael Frolik, Chris Campoli, and Viktor Stalberg are all restricted free agents at the end of the season. But for now, it looks like Stan Bowman has chosen his top priority. Once he gets the net situation figured out for the future, he’ll be able to work on the rest of the team.