While Corey Crawford still isn’t the number one goaltender in the world and probably never will be, on this team he doesn’t need to be. He has shown that he has what it takes to provide solid back end tending, which earned him a 6-year $36 million extension, after barely missing out on the Conn Smythe trophy during the Hawks run to the Cup. Crawford doesn’t need to be a world beater. He doesn’t have to make miraculous save after miraculous save. He has to not let in the easy goals and just play a solid positional game. Which he has been able to do; he minimized his mistakes throughout last season, showing some flashes of brilliance and balls during the playoffs.
Crawford will definitely have obstacles to overcome. Besides the obvious and much talked about "Stanley Cup Hangover," Crawford has some new faces around him including, new/old back-up Nikolai Khabibulin and new goalie coach Steve Weeks. Weeks is replacing Stephan Waite, the only goal-tending coach Crawford has had since joining the big club, who left the organization to join the Canadiens of Montreal. These changes along with his fat new contract may cause problems for Crawford this season.
As many of you know, Crawford and Waite had a great relationship and it will be interesting to see how Crow and Weeks work through problems and arguments throughout their first season together. Weeks played 13 seasons as a goaltender in the NHL originally selected by the Rangers in 1978 then playing 3 seasons with the Rangers. He went on to play for the Whalers, Canucks, Islanders, Kings and Senators. Retiring after the Senators inaugural season Weeks went on to coach and scout for the Whalers/Hurricanes and then the Thrashers in 08-09. Hopefully, the two won’t have many issues to fix and they can bond over lots and lots of shutouts and Hawks victories.
On top of the new coach, Crawford will also have to deal with a new back up. Last season, Ray Emery was able to put on some outstanding performances (17-1-0) giving Crawford some relief. I don’t care if people say he faced a "lesser" competition; that’s what back-ups are supposed to do. You can only play the teams on your schedule and Emery played those teams and beat them. During a lockout shortened season with a compressed schedule Crawford and Emery were able to win the Jennings Memorial trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league. We will see how Emery does with the Flyers defense in front of him. I think he was protected here in Chicago and Philadelphia is likely going to be a much different story. Hopefully though for the Hawks, bringing in the 40-year old Khabibulin will be enough of a stopgap until Annti Raanta cuts his teeth is Rockford.
Meanwhile, the Bulin Wall is back in Chicago for another stint and hopefully he can keep his focus while backing up Crawford and stay away from any more DUI’s in his Ferrari. Khabibulin hasn't played more than 50 games since his last stint with the Hawks and he won’t be expected to carry that kind of workload unless there is a long-term injury to Crow (knock on wood). If that is the case we will hopefully get a look at our new Finnish toy not the 40-year-old drunk Russian toy. Not to pile on Khabi but this seems like an obvious Swan Song season where he is hoping to ride the Hawks strong D and Crawford to another cup before he retires.
Speaking of Antti Raanta, he has been reassigned to the Ice Hogs, which will allow him to get used to the different ice size and speed of the game. It shouldn't take Raanta long to assimilate to the North American game. He was awarded the Lasse Oksanen trophy in the SM-liiga for the best regular season player and the Jari Kurri trophy for best player in the playoffs. So the 24 year-old Fin has some skill. I am no salary cap expert but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Antti come up later in the season or in the case of an injury. What will be interesting is what the Hawks decide to do with him down the road. I don’t think this kid is looking to be a back-up until he is 30, which is when Crawford’s new contract will expire. So if he has the skills to make the big club he may be a piece the Hawks could move for a needed position (COUGH, COUGH GET A FUCKING 2ND LINE CENTER ALREADY COUGH, COUGH) or step up and take Crawford’s roll when his cap hit is too appetizing for Dale Tallon to pass up.
Now back to the man who will take the majority of the starts this season for the Stanley Cup Champions. It will be interesting to see where Crawford’s game goes from here. After his sophomore slump he was able to come back and win a Stanley Cup while posting a career best 1.94 GAA. Crawford also has the protection of one of the best, if not the best, overall D-core in the league. Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy all return to bolster the Hawks line-up. Leddy should look to pick up some more meaningful minutes and Toftbo’s new contract makes him the defacto number 3 defensemen on the team. If the Hawks defense can provide the type of solid play we have all come to expect from them, Crawford should be fine.
Again, Crawford shouldn't need to be Patrick Roy to find success this season. He needs to play within himself, control his rebounds and not let too many pucks through the five-hole; we will see how the shortened pads affect his 6’2 frame.
The Blackhawks in front of him should take care of the rest.