As the Chicago Blackhawks have risen to their place among the NHL's elite teams during the past several seasons, several of their star players have received a lot of recognition around the NHL. Jonathan Toews has been referred to as the model of leadership and two-way play, Patrick Kane is considered by many to be the game's best offensive forward and Duncan Keith is widely viewed as one of the NHL's best defensemen.
These considerations have all been earned, and are more than deserved. Still, there are some who make the argument that these players are only considered as such due to being on the NHL's most successful franchise of the past decade. It's an interesting position to take, though not necessarily untrue -- for example, Toews' leadership and two-way play may not be so widely revered if he hadn't been the captain of three Stanley Cup winning teams.
That's the effect success has, though. Even when a player's individual statistics may not compare favorably to other players, if that player helps his team win a championship, we allow that championship to justify the other shortcomings.
Which is why the lack of respect Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford gets is so curious. Crawford has now been the starting goaltender for the Blackhawks last two Stanley Cup victories. He is a two-time winner of the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltender who allows the least goals in a regular season.
Crawford was robbed of the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP in 2013 after posting a heroic .932 save percentage. His strong play in the closing months of last season, a time when Chicago often played lackluster hockey on the defensive end, was arguably the main reason the team made the playoffs and were able to subsequently win the Cup again.
This season, Crawford's play has been stellar yet again, and yet even with that he still struggles to garner much respect. Last week when Crawford posted 41 saves in a 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators, he wasn't even selected as one of the three stars of the game despite being far and away the best player in the game. While that's just one game, it serves as a microcosm for Crawford's whole season to this point.
Crawford has had an extremely strong season to this point, with his numbers ranking among the NHL's best netminders. He leads goalies with six shutouts, already his career high by far. His .931 save percentage is tied for second among NHL goalies who have played at least 20 games, and his 2.14 goals against average ranks eighth in the same group.
He also boasts a .936 save percentage at 5v5, which falls slightly to .933 when adjusted for score. Those have him ranked 10th and 11th in the NHL, respectively. He also has the league's third highest save percentage on high danger scoring chances at .888, and fourth in shorthanded save percentage at .901. He's posted all of these impressive statistics while being tied for the most games played by goalies and ranking second in goaltender TOI.
Crawford also has an impressive score adjusted GSAA/60 (more on this here), visualized below:
Crawford ranks 13th overall in this stat, but he has faced the most shots among all goalies that rank positively. When removing goalies who are in red above and have faced a significantly lower shot total than Crawford, he moves up to eighth.
All of these statistics are quite impressive, and in totality could be used to create a pretty strong case for Crawford as a Vezina Trophy candidate. And yet last week both NHL.com and SBNation failed to even include Crawford on their Vezina watch lists at the midseason point.
Now, it's really no secret that Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has been the best netminder in the NHL this season, and he is clearly the Vezina favorite at this time. But Crawford has been arguably the best goalie in the Western Conference this season, and his name should at least be in the conversation of Vezina candidates given his impressive statistics and strong play for the Blackhawks this season.
Crawford has often been docked by fans and the media as being the beneficiary of playing goal behind one of the strongest teams in the NHL. However, this season that argument falls flat. The Blackhawks defense hasn't been as strong as we've seen in years past. Crawford has been the most important player to the team's recent surge of strong play, and arguably all season, even with Kane's absolute dominance of the NHL.
This isn't to say Crawford should suddenly be considered the NHL's gold standard of goalies, or be the Vezina favorite. But Crawford absolutely belongs in the conversation this season, and he deserves more recognition for his strong play than he has received thus far.
Crawford has risen to stardom for the Blackhawks at the perfect time. In a season where the team has seen struggles in some areas that they were not previously accustomed to, Crawford has stepped up and been the top goalie the team needs him to be. And yet despite his play and statistics being among the NHL's best, Crawford still can't get any love.It's time for that to change.
Adam Hess is a staff writer at Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter at @FeathersInDaHat.
Statistics via NHL.com and War on Ice.