Corey Crawford pondered leaving NHL early in his career

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Corey Crawford ranks as one of the most established goalies in the NHL, so it’s bewildering to consider how many times he could have gone down a different path.

CSNChicago.com points to an interesting “What if?” scenario early in his career, as Crawford admitted that he considered leaving the NHL during early developmental struggles.

“I stayed pretty motivated most of the time, but obviously it’s hard to (be in the minors) for your entire career,” Crawford said during Saturday’s “My Path to the NHL” panel at the ninth annual Blackhawks Convention. “There were definitely times when I thought I’d might like to move on, maybe go play in Europe or go try and play in Russia if I could.”

Such a thought is a reminder that Crawford traveled a bumpy road to becoming the Chicago Blackhawks go-to goaltender.

Let’s take a look back at some of his ups and downs even as he finally became a fixture at the highest level.

2010-11

As mentioned before, he played in 57 games. Here’s something to jog your memory: he battled for playing time with Marty Turco.

(Yes, that really happened.)

The Vancouver Canucks ultimately bounced Crawford and the defending champion Blackhawks from the first round.

The Blackhawks handed Crawford a three-year deal during the off-season, hoping to avoid a repeat of seeing Antti Niemi get poached.

2011-12

Crawford once again played 57 games, yet the story of that season seemed to be his sophomore slump.

Both Crawford and Ray Emery struggled while the Blackhawks flirted with signing Martin Brodeur.

(Another hard-to-believe memory.)

2012-13

Much like the previous season, Crawford and Emery produced similar regular season results. Of course, this time around, both goalies put up fantastic numbers as they shared the William Jennings Trophy.

Crawford carried the load in the postseason despite their comparable numbers, which was the obvious move in retrospect as he helped Chicago win its second Stanley Cup of the Patrick KaneJonathan Toews era while Emery’s faced his struggles ever since.

Granted, people were really worried about Crawford’s glove hand, so there were still moments when he could have gotten derailed.

Just look at headlines from that time that went along the lines of “his future is still cloudy.”

2013-14

This was an up-and-down year, with Nikolai Khabibulin’s name briefly resurfacing and Crawford prompting his coach to call him out from time to time.

There were still times when he looked shaky, particularly when the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings traded blows in a high-scoring series.

2014-15

Now we enter the two-year span where Crawford really silenced doubters.

Sure, there was that stretch where Scott Darling replaced him for a playoff start or two, but Crawford helped the Blackhawks win another Cup and put up strong numbers more often than not.

2015-16

As much as that Stanley Cup run cemented Crawford’s status, this past season was just as effective in making his argument.

Chicago wasn’t quite as dominant, yet Crawford set a career-high with 35 wins and matched the nice .924 save percentage he generated in 2014-15. He played well enough that Kane considered him an All-Star snub.

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Wow, quite a ride, right?

There were a few forks in the road for Crawford and the Blackhawks, but both parties must be glad that he stuck around.