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Robin Lehner’s impact on the outlook for Corey Crawford’s 2019-20 season

When healthy, Crawford is one of the league’s best goaltenders. Bringing in a Vezina-caliber backup should keep him that way.

Winnipeg Jets v Chicago Blackhawks
Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks makes a save during play
Getty Images

Corey Crawford has been missed. Not the Crawford who played in 2018-19, but the version of himself from the years before that. Maybe it should be rephrased — healthy Crawford has been missed.

Between 2014-15 and 2017-18, the last four seasons Crawford was healthy (until he got injured by Evgeni Malkin in November 2017), he was one of the best goalies in the NHL.

In those four seasons, Crawford was second in save percentage (tied with Carey Price, behind only Antti Raanta, who played 4,000 fewer minutes), third in goals saved above average, second in high-danger save percentage (behind Matt Murray, again with 4,000 fewer minutes) and first in high-danger goals saved above average* (at even strength).

At all strengths, Crawford was second in save percentage (again behind Raanta), second in goals saved above average, and second in high-danger goals saved above average. Not bad for a guy who was never a Vezina finalist (although looking at his numbers, he should have been a couple times).

In the last five years he’s been healthy, Crawford has also won two Stanley Cup championships, years during which he played 30 games (out of 48) and 57 games (out of 82) in the regular season. Crawford was 15th in regular season minutes in 2014-15 and 21st in 2013.

Why do I bring this up, you ask? Besides pointing out how amazing Crawford has been, and what a joke it is he’s only ever finished fifth in Vezina voting, it’s to point out the Blackhawks just brought Robin Lehner in on a one-year, $5 million contract.

People have wondered what that means for Crawford, whether he’s healthy or not, and what the future holds for the Blackhawks’ net. Well, if Crawford is healthy — and as we saw toward the end of last season, he certainly looked that way — it can only mean good things.

The last two times the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, they did so with solid backup netminders. Ray Emery did his fair share of the heavy lifting in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, and had a .922 save percentage in 21 games. In 2014-15, the Blackhawks had both Antti Raanta and Scott Darling. Darling had a .915 save percentage in 29 regular-season games and famously kept the Blackhawks in their first round playoff series against the Predators when he replaced Crawford for five games.

Lehner is the next step in that evolution, especially with Crawford at age 34 and now having health concerns. Lehner is coming off a season with the Islanders where he had a .930 save percentage and was third in Vezina voting. But more importantly, Lehner played just 46 games, and was 24th amongst goaltenders in all minutes.

In other words, Lehner has experience playing incredibly well in a platoon situation. That’s what the Blackhawks need, because even if Crawford is able to get to whatever his full health now is this offseason, it’s in the Blackhawks’ best interest to play him less.

The goaltenders who made it deep in the playoffs did so with rest. Tuukka Rask played the same number of games as Lehner, and was 23rd in minutes. Jordan Binnington played just 32 regular-season games. Petr Mrazek was 28th (Curtis McElhinney was 38th). Only Martin Jones was in the top 10 of the final four, and let’s just say he didn’t exactly carry the Sharks to the Western Conference Final.

The last time we saw a healthy Crawford for extended period of time, he was third in the NHL with a .929 save percentage and .860 high-danger save percentage. If he’s able to get back to that point, even Lehner won’t be able to stop him from being the Blackhawks’ starter.

But that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a smart acquisition. Chicago general manager Stan Bowman likely saw the same stats on the winning goaltenders as the rest of the league and did something about it, bringing in one of the best platoon netminders in the league. A Crawford-Lehner battery is better than one with Crawford-Collin Delia, and if Crawford isn’t able to get back to that healthy, world’s best version of himself, well, having a Vezina candidate aboard isn’t a bad solution.

*Advanced Metric Glossary

HDGSAA - High-danger goals saved above average is calculated by taking the average high-danger shot save percentage for goalies in the NHL and multiplying it by the number of high danger shots Goalie X faced in a given time frame. That will return the amount of goals that an average NHL goalie likely would have allowed when facing X number of high-danger shots. Subtract that number of predicted high-danger goals allowed from the actual number of high-danger goals allowed by Goalie X. That will provide you with either a positive or negative HDGSAA number that you can juxtapose against other NHL goalies. Goals saved above average (GSAA) works in a similar fashion.