There’s not much else to say about the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks season: it was the team’s worst in a decade. A combination of costly injuries that led to subpar goaltending, season-long slumps and a never-ending string of unfortunate bounces plunged the Hawks into the bottom of the Central Division standings for the first time in 11 years. We’ve talked about the past enough. With the current Stanley Cup Final set to end this week, it’s time to start looking ahead. But one question will loom throughout the summer and permeate until the start of training camp.
Will Corey Crawford be back to his elite form by the start of the next season?
Let’s revisit the timeline for Crawford this season.
December 23: Crawford gives up three goals in seven shots in a 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, getting pulled in the first period. It would be his final game of the season.
December 27: Crawford is placed on injured reserve. No word was given on the injury.
December 28: Coach Joel Quenneville tells reporters that Crawford will be out for “a bit,” with an upper-body injury.
January 16: Chicago Sun-Times’ reporter Mark Lazerus cites three team sources, saying that Crawford was dealing with vertigo-like symptoms and could miss the rest of the season.
February 12: Crawford participates at a morning skate for the first time since his injury.
February 21: Quenneville won’t say the Hawks are shutting Crawford down, but a different tone in his expression is noted.
April 9: General manager Stan Bowman tells reporters at the end-of-season press conference that he expects Crawford to return to his old form.
What’s been most annoying about this entire saga has been the lack of transparency from the Blackhawks front office. Not once has their ever been an official statement on what ailed Crawford, except for the ever-vague “upper-body injury” classification. The closest anyone affiliated with the Blackhawks came to clarity was team advisor Scotty Bowman in an interview on a Canadian radio station, when he said that Crawford was dealing with post-concussion syndrome. At one point, 670 The Score’s Dan Bernstein had a simple question that the Blackhawks never really answered: where was Corey Crawford?
Outside of Bowman’s comments at the press conference, the most recent update available on Crawford came on April 2:
Corey Crawford obviously isn't playing again this season (he hasn't been on the ice since that morning skate in Arizona on Feb. 12). But he's been in the gym a lot and Joel Quenneville said, "We expect him to be fine."— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) April 2, 2018
Considering the Hawks won’t need Crawford on the ice until September for training camp and October to open the season, it’s certainly reasonable to expect Crawford to be fine. But expectations are not always in the same circle of a Venn diagram as reality. If it truly was a concussion or other head injury, the symptoms from those can linger for months. Just ask Sidney Crosby.
There’s been no report of Crawford physically being on the ice since February. There’s been no report of Crawford being given a clean bill of health from doctors. There’s been no report that Crawford will be OK to play for the Blackhawks next season.
And until that report surfaces, Crawford’s health will cast a pall over any optimism regarding the 2018-19 Blackhawks. Given the way Chicago’s front office has been so tight-lipped about this entire scenario, counting on them to deliver this news seems a lesson in futility. But there could be some information on this front made available in late July, when Crawford is expected to be in attendance at the Blackhawks fan convention:
Theoretically, this means Corey Crawford will be available to reporters in late July. He hasn't been on the record since the ill-fated trip to Arizona. https://t.co/eIDZG3T9Wy— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 31, 2018
Whatever comes out of that media session Crawford could have with reporters could be the biggest news of the summer, regardless of what happens at the draft and during free agency.
This is the single most important factor in Chicago’s future success. They can sign John Tavares if they want. They can trade for Erik Karlsson. Unload the contracts of Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa and they could probably get both under the salary cap. But none of that is going to matter if No. 50 isn’t starting 55 games for Chicago next winter.