There's a funny thing about the hockey world's collective memory of Corey Crawford. No matter how awesome he plays for months on end, no matter what the numbers say, Crawford's worst moments always seem to be the ones that stick out. For an award-winning, championship goaltender, this is one of the first things that comes to mind:
A 7-1 loss to Boston in February. The early yips against Nashville in May. This is the stuff folks point to as proof that Crawford isn't one of the game's best. It comes off like complaining about, I don't know, the silverware at an otherwise amazing five-star restaurant.
Crawford isn't just good enough to win Stanley Cups, he's firmly entrenched himself among the best at his position in the NHL. It's almost laughable that EA Sports' upcoming NHL 16 video game doesn't include Crawford among the top 10 goalies. While EA certainly isn't the overlord by which we evaluate players, it's hard not to wonder what else people are waiting to see from Crawford before accepting he's a truly stellar player. No, he's not the Chris Osgood of the franchise.
The numbers say Crawford is elite. The Cups say Crawford is elite. Everyone on the Blackhawks says Crawford is elite. At a certain point, I don't know, maybe the guy is actually that good? Here's why that's the case.
First, let's start with the numbers from the 2014-15 season. Crawford's overall statistics were quite good, but dig an extra layer deeper and things become even more impressive. Among goaltenders to play 30-plus games last season, only three had adjusted save percentages higher than Crawford. That statistic adjusts a goaltender's save percentage based on the location of all the shots he faced. Crawford's adjusted save percentage of 93.09 percent was just narrowly behind Carey Price (93.56 percent), Cory Schneider (93.31 percent) and Steve Mason (93.26).
A big part of what makes Crawford such an effective goaltender is that he very rarely gives up easy goals. On "low danger" shots last season, Crawford made the save 97.7 percent of the time. Only Marc-Andre Fleury (97.8 percent) did better in those situations. The same can be said for "medium danger" shots, where Crawford was also in the top 10.
This wasn't some grand fluke, either. Among goalies who have played 5,000 minutes (or about 82 full games) over the past three seasons, Crawford is seventh in save percentage, fifth in adjusted save percentage, third in save percentage on low-danger shots and sixth in save percentage on high-danger shots. He's both proficient at making the saves he needs to and stepping up to fight off chances when the shooter is in a strong position.
He's also a lot more durable than anybody gives him credit for. Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist are tied for most games played (regular season and playoffs combined) at the position with 208 apiece. No goaltender has logged more minutes in the past three seasons than Crawford. Yes, that is partially the result of deep playoff runs. But you know who was always a big part of those games? Crawford. This all seems like good stuff to me.
Winning two Stanley Cups in the modern era is a genuinely incredible feat. Jonathan Quick is the only other active goaltender to do that, and he's roundly considered one of the game's best. I don't think it's controversial to say that the vast majority of fans believe that Quick is on an entirely different level from Crawford. This isn't to say which one is better. It's a bit much to argue that one is clearly, vastly superior to the other, though.
Crawford has not only thrived in the postseason, leading his teams to a pair of Stanley Cups and a Western Conference Final Game 7. He's also crushed it during the regular season. A two-time winner of the William M. Jennings Trophy, given to the qualified goaltender with lowest goals allowed average, Crawford's already got a pretty impressive resume after five NHL seasons.
This is where things get really bizarre with Crawford, though. Because his Cups were won with the help of so many others, and his goals allowed figure is affected by the team's defense, it's been easy to dismiss just how much influence Crow had over those feats. All of that ignores how strong Crawford's numbers are across the board, however, and it's somewhat a double standard when you consider that most great goaltenders benefit in some way from having quality defenders up front. But for whatever reason, it's become one of the easiest ways to downgrade Crawford's accomplishments.
And then there are the people who employ and play with Crawford. Just about every one of them has had glowing things to say about the 30-year-old, from general manager Stan Bowman to his teammates.
In March, Andrew Shaw said nobody was playing better than Crawford.
"I think he’s been our best player as of late," Shaw said. "He’s keeping us in games that we haven’t deserved to be in. He’s making those big-time saves. We know he can. Most goalies wouldn’t be able to. But he always finds a way. He’s focused. He’s competitive. In practice he’s probably he most competitive guy. He doesn’t let anyone score on him. He tries, even on every single rebound I think it’s made him a better player. "
Then there was captain Jonathan Toews showing his support for Crawford in April:
Jonathan Toews on Corey Crawford last night. #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/3EhNE1MOuY— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 18, 2015
And just maybe, Crawford would get the respect he deserves if he had a Conn Smythe to his name. Toews said earlier this summer that the goaltender would have one if it was up to his teammates.
Jonathan Toews on Corey Crawford: "Patrick Kane won the Conn Smythe [in 2013], but if we had our choice for sure it would have been him."— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) June 6, 2015
Even Kane has said this kind of stuff, and he's won the award. There's a genuine belief around the Blackhawks that Crawford is the man for the job between the pipes.
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None of this is to say that Crawford is the game's best, or that he could've done all these things without Toews, Duncan Keith and the rest of the Blackhawks' fantastic defensive players. It certainly helps having a strong systems coach like Joel Quenneville, too.
But just about everything Crawford has done over the past three years puts him among the very best goaltenders in the league, in the same upper echelon as the Quicks and Rasks and Holtbys and Schneiders. You'd have to spend more time building an argument to the contrary, really.
There's a reason why the Blackhawks have complete confidence in their goaltending entering the 2015-16 season. Corey Crawford is a great goaltender. You could even call him elite.