Look, it’s quite possible that Corey Crawford will be back this season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
As of this moment, there are more questions than answers, with semantic arguments bubbling up about whether he’s dealing with concussion issues, vertigo, or what. Either way, it’s an unfortunate situation.
Let’s say the very bad happens and the Blackhawks won’t get their crucial goalie back as they try to claw their way into a playoff spot in the competitive Central Division. What should GM Stan Bowman do?
Here are a few scenarios.
We can debate where Crawford ranks among the NHL’s best goalies (is he a top-five guy, top 10, elite?), but it’s fair to say that he’s had one of the toughest gigs. It’s a good thing that he produced a fantastic .929 save percentage this season, because Chicago’s defense isn’t what it once was. They’re tied for the eighth-most shots allowed per game (32.6) and are in the top 10 in most high-danger chances allowed (via Natural Stat Trick).
Jeff Glass is a great story, and he’s provided very acceptable backup-level work alongside Anton Forsberg (Glass’s save percentage is .910, Forsberg’s at .911).
That’s heartening, but the bottom line is that the Blackhawks rank at the bottom of the Central with this mix of Crawford’s great goaltending and respectable work from Glass/Forsberg. They may only sink with Glass and Forsberg, and that’s assuming that those two don’t fall apart altogether.
The more uncomfortable question is: maybe they should just “Take the L” and regroup for next season? As is, it’s tough to imagine the Blackhawks making the playoffs, or making any noise if they do make it.
If they would rather not punt this season, then a trade would be the best option to explore.
Go after an obvious guy
The Detroit Red Wings want to move Petr Mrazek. If Crawford goes on IR, Chicago might not even need Detroit to retain much/any of Mrazek’s $4M, possibly making the asking price more reasonable.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the best of Mrazek (2015-16), but he’s only made 13 appearances in 2017-18, as the Red Wings still haven’t gotten the whole “rebuild” memo yet. Or at least they haven’t read it.
Mrazek would stand as a “high-risk, high-reward” acquisition. You could probably put Buffalo Sabres starter Robin Lehner under that heading, assuming Buffalo would let him go. Logically, you’d think Lehner would be more costly, considering his sneaky-strong individual stats.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli notes that San Jose Sharks backup Aaron Dell might draw some trade interest, with some looking at him as the next backup who might take the next step to become a starter. Chicago could provide Dell with quite the audition in that regard.
The road less traveled
Actually, Dell stands as a template for the type of guys who the Blackhawks might want to at least inquire about: backups who might not be long for their current teams.
Philipp Grubauer is one name that stands out. With a solid .916 save percentage this season and a sparkling .922 mark for his career (81 regular-season games), Grubauer’s excelled when given chances. The problem is that he plays on the same team as Braden Holtby, which means that those chances seldom come.
Grubauer is a pending RFA, and he’s likely to be too expensive for the Washington Capitals after this season. Maybe the Blackhawks can make it worth Washington’s while to acknowledge that likelihood, and get something for him rather than letting him go for less later?
The Blue Jackets still have Joonas Korpisalo through 2018-19, with his contract expiring at the same time as that of Sergei Bobrovsky, so a conversation about “Korpi” likely wouldn’t last too long. Still, why not ask?
One other off-the-beaten path consideration would be Antti Raanta.
The Blackhawks and Coyotes aren’t shy about making moves together, and Raanta’s debut season hasn’t gone as planned in Arizona. The Coyotes might not have necessarily soured on Raanta, but if they decide to go in a different direction in net in the future, maybe it would be worth moving him?
Chicago obviously has experience with Raanta, so that could make it a more comfortable transition as a “rental,” too.
Look, the Blackhawks struggled with Crawford in the lineup, playing at an outstanding level. There’s no guarantee that landing a goalie would make the difference, even if that netminder generated great work and didn’t cost a ton in a trade.
On the other hand, this Blackhawks core isn’t getting any younger, while the Central is loaded with teams that have bright futures.
For all we know, this might be one of this team’s last, best shots. GM Stan Bowman needs to turn over every stone to try to find an answer, whether that ends up coming down to making a big move or accepting the painful status quo.
Personally, I’d rotate between grumbling and crying.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.