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Why the Blackhawks won’t place Corey Crawford on LTIR as long as he might come back

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Let’s clarify one aspect of a complicated situation.

Chicago Blackhawks v Dallas Stars

There are a lot of things that we don’t really know about the Corey Crawford situation. It’s been reported that he’s potentially out for the season with “vertigo-like symptoms,” but the Blackhawks haven’t said much about the absence of their star goaltender.

One thing the team hasn’t done yet is place Crawford on long-term injured reserve, which is a good sign that he’s coming back this season. If that’s what ultimately happens, it’ll likely spell the end of the goalie’s season, and could represent the final blow to the team’s playoff hopes. Let’s break that down.

IR vs. LTIR

First, let’s explain quickly the difference between those two things. Crawford is currently on injured reserve, which is not the same as long-term injured reserve. The main difference is that LTIR provides salary cap relief, while IR only provides an open spot on the active roster.

In order to go on LTIR, a player needs to be out for a minimum of 10 games or 24 days. Crawford has now been out for 10 games and 25 days, so why wouldn’t the team just go ahead and use that designation instead of IR? It’s a sign that they still think he might come back.

What placing Crawford on LTIR would mean

Here’s a quick rundown of how LTIR would work right now, with all the numbers provided by Cap Friendly.

The Blackhawks currently have a $5.925 million salary pool created from the LTIR status of Marian Hossa and Michal Rozsival. They’re currently using $3,075,641 of that pool to cover a current team cap hit of $78.07 million. As a result, their remaining LTIR salary pool stands at $2,818,334.

By placing Crawford on LTIR, the Blackhawks would increase their salary pool by an additional $6 million. This would be the full total because the team’s Accruable Cap Space Limit for the season was first determined when Hossa was placed on LTIR back in October.

So now the team would have a salary pool of $11.925 million, and even with their current cap hits, an available salary pool over $8 million. That would potentially give it the flexibility to acquire a rental goalie and other pieces, if it felt inclined to do so. (It’s unclear what the team’s trade deadline strategy will be at this point.)

However, there are two crucial points here. First, the salary cap may not exist in the playoffs, but it does in the offseason, where the team would only be able to go 10 percent over the upper limit. So its cap hit at then end of the playoffs can’t be over $82.5 million, even if it has more LTIR salary pool available.

Second, that increased salary pool is only available as long as the players are on LTIR.

LTIR cap space won’t really help unless Crawford is out for the season

This is why we’ll know if Crawford is done for the year if he goes on LTIR. The benefit of doing that would only apply for the Blackhawks in a meaningful way if he doesn’t come back. There’s no point to placing him on LTIR and adding salary beyond the $5.925 million salary pool if it drops back to that level when Crawford returns in, say, mid-February. They would end up non-compliant with the salary cap, something that’s obviously not going to happen.

So part of how we’ll be able to know what’s going on with Crawford is simply through his official status. As long as he’s on IR, there’s hope that he’ll ultimately come back this season. But if he goes on LTIR, then it’s a sign that he’s not coming back (unless it’s a convenient Patrick Kane-like return for Game 1 of the playoffs like in 2015) and the Blackhawks are opening up their options to potentially replace him.