On most teams, a rookie stealing the number one spot from a veteran goalie is something of a shock. It ought to be one of the main story lines of the season... but not for the Blackhawks. After Niemi took the spot from Huet last year, we were treated to the same story again this year as Turco simply didn't work out the way we had hoped. Corey Crawford didn't exactly come out of nowhere like Niemi did though, he's been billed as the Hawks "goalie of the future" for a while.. even if he did lose the back-up job to the Finn last year. Crawford had a few cups of coffee with the club prior to this year but had only put together a 1-3-1 record while seeing time in 8 games. Turco was expected to get a lot of starts but with his likely one and done contract, a lot of eyes were on Crawford to see if he'd be ready to take the #1 job in 11/12. After nearly getting the Hawks a third Calder finalist in four years and backstopping the team to the playoffs... I'd say he's about ready.
|2010 - Corey Crawford||57||3337||33||18||128||2.30||1545||1417||.917||4|
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent (2010/2011 Cap Hit: $800K)
Positives: There's a lot to like here. While there were plenty of people worrying about the loss of Niemi.. only the most boneheaded hang on to that lament after seeing Crawford step into the starting role this year. The numbers between the two are damn near identical and that's with a far more consistent Sharks team in front of Niemi. Crawford proved to be the quick athletic goalie we had heard about. While he didn't have many games that he outright stole for the Hawks, he gave a chance damn near every time he was given the start. Crawford was only pulled twice all year (once in Florida and once in the abomination that was the 5-0 loss to Dallas). He also proved he could (reasonably) handle a strong workload. With Turco faltering and the Hawks needing every damn point they could get down the stretch, Q was forced to ride Crawford hard. For the most part, Craw lived up to probably even the highest expectations one could have had for the rookie netminder.
Negatives: Only a few here, some of which you can't completely blame him for. Obviously, the stretch towards the end of the season took its toll on Crawford. He simply looked tired at times in February and March. He had played a similar number of games in other leagues but at this level it zapped him. He was able to rally back to finish the season strong and have a solid playoff series.
While he doesn't posses that wanderlust that doomed Turco one too many times, Crawford can get out of position and lose his post. Make him scramble a bit and there is a decent chance that a spot will open up on his blocker side. Rebound control can also be an issue at times, though not a major problem. As I mentioned before though, he hasn't quite learned to steal a game. He'll make solid saves but didn't come up with too many highlight reel ones.
Defining Moment: We can go two ways here. The first is just to say his moment was finally grabbing the starting gig and then running away with it. I think he ended the season with 34 consecutive starts? The Hawks needed a workhorse and Crawford was up to the task. For a guy who has spent probably far too long in the AHL, it was great to see him get his moment and go for it.
However, I think what Crawford will really be remembered for was going toe-to-toe with Roberto Luongo in the playoffs and getting the better of him. While Borat had two solid games to start the series, he was also chased twice before being benched. Meanwhile, Crawford kept rolling and even made some brilliant saves of his own, such as this one against the Sedins:
I remember another great moment where he made three saves in rapid succession, including finally gloving one from his stomach... but can't find the video. I'm sure one of you can help me out.
Final Grade: A-. I don't think we could have really hoped for more from Crawford. While it wasn't exactly a brilliant season, it was a great one for a guy just getting regular time in the NHL.
Outlook: With Brent Seabrook locked up already, Corey Crawford is already identified as the Hawks #1 priority. The goalie market probably won't be quite as deep this summer as it was last year but there's still a few names that will be looking for a deal. He'll definitely need a raise though and hopefully the Hawks can find something manageable. Crawford still needs tuning but luckily it seems goalie coach Stephane Waite is in the middle of a groove. If the Hawks sign him, and there's little doubt that they will, Crawford will be all but guaranteed the starting gig from the start of the year and hopefully give us our first goalie controversy free season in the past couple years. And won't that be nice?