Corey Crawford helped build a championship legacy in Chicago

Corey Crawford Retires
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Corey Crawford announced his retirement from the NHL on Saturday afternoon, ending a 10-year career that was never fully appreciated for how great it was while it was happening.

When you think back to the Chicago Blackhawks teams of the 2010s, the ones that won three Stanley Cups in six years, the first players you think of as the key cogs in the machine are almost always going to be Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Duncan Keith.

If you were going to pinpoint a weakness, goaltending was probably the one that would always get mentioned first. Not so much because it was a problem, but mostly because it was an afterthought nationally. The forwards were so good, the defense was so steady, that there was this perception that the team was going to win no matter who the goalie was.

But Crawford was far better and far more impactful than an afterthought or a passenger. He was always one of the main people driving the bus.

I remember back during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Blackhawks were on their way to their first championship with Crawford as their starter, there was a constant narrative that his “weak glove hand” was something that could have been exposed and hold the team back.

[Related: Corey Crawford retires from NHL after 10 seasons]

In the Stanley Cup Final in Boston that year the narrative reached its boiling point after a 6-5 Blackhawks win in Game 1 which prompted Crawford to sarcastically fire back with the line: “Last series they were talking about my blocker. Both sides are bad, I guess.”

This criticism and narrative was taking place during a postseason run that he would finish with a .932 save percentage, one of the highest marks in a single postseason over the past two decades. This is where that “not always fully appreciated while it was happening” point comes into play.

It was a postseason where he had a save percentage of .917 in 19 of his 23 starts, including 12 starts where it was higher than .935.

For as great as that Blackhawks team was, it was not always dominant in the playoffs. Winning was not a foregone conclusion.

If you recall, Toews went the first 20 games that postseason with just one goal. Kane scored only two in the first 15 games. A Blackhawks team that was the second-highest scoring team during the regular season (3.10 goals per game), lost nearly half a goal in the playoffs (down to 2.75) and was still able to consistently win close, low-scoring games (including three games where they managed just two goals) in large part because of Crawford’s play. Given his dominance and consistency, he probably deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy. Or at least deserved a bigger argument than was ever mounted in his favor.

Two years later he was briefly (and shockingly) benched in a First Round series win against Nashville before reclaiming his starting spot in the decisive game. He then played lights out for the remainder of the playoffs. It was during that Stanley Cup Final where he helped slow down a high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning team by allowing just 10 goals in the six-game series. He never allowed more than one goal in any of the Blackhawks’ four wins, three of which were 2-1 victories. The Blackhawks never scored more than three goals in a game in that series, and only once more than two (a game they lost). He was, quite literally, the biggest difference in that Stanley Cup Final series.

How consistently good was Crawford? Just look at the five-year window between 2012 and 2017. During that time the Blackhawks won a pair of championships, played in an additional Western Conference Final, and won a Presidents’ Trophy.

Crawford was one of the best goalies in the league during that stretch.

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Some numbers…

He had .921 all situations save percentage during the regular season, sixth among 46 goalies with at least 100 games.

That included a .930 even-strength save percentage that was fifth among that same sampling of goalies.

• He also had a .920 postseason all situations save percentage. For the three years between 2012 and 2015, when the Blackhawks reached the Conference Final each year and won two Stanley Cups, that number went up to .925 in all situations.

Despite that run of excellence he never finished higher than fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting, only ever received one first place vote (and only seven total votes over those five years), and was never given serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy despite being a difference-maker on two Stanley Cup winning teams.

Even as the Blackhawks’ dynasty started to decline, Crawford remained one of their most consistent (and valuable) players to help keep them a playoff team during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Toward the end concussion issues caused major issues for Crawford and left his future in doubt, only to see him come back during the 2019-20 season and once again play at a high level. It is very likely he could have done so again this season for New Jersey.

Crawford’s career is probably not enough for the Hall of Fame, but it is a career that might be looked at with more respect at its conclusion than it ever received while it was happening. At least it should be. Because for the better part of a decade he was one of the best, most consistent goalies in the world and helped turn the Blackhawks into a mini-dynasty.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.