Corey Crawford's future with Blackhawks should remain intact
Despite the recent struggles of the Blackhawks and their starting netminder, there shouldn't be any questions about where his future stands with the organization.
The Chicago Blackhawks are not a very good hockey team right now. It doesn't take an expert to look at this last stretch and easily judge their performances with the most skeptical and negative of fashions. With the Hawks riding a 10-10-3 mark since the calendar turned over to the New Year, it's hard to be impressed with much of anything that the team has done. While there have been a number of disappointing aspects for the 'Hawks, much of the blame has fallen on the shoulders of Corey Crawford.
This is probably the most predictable element of all of this. The Blackhawks' blue line is currently in legitimate shambles. It was already struggling before they lost Johnny Oduya for a couple weeks with an upper-body injury. That means more time for Michal Rozsival, Tim Erixon and David Rundblad. Which also means potential 30 minute nights for the likes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, while life will continue to be difficult for Crawford.
Which has been the case for quite some time here. Crawford has played behind one of the league's most inconsistent defensive groups, especially as far as the contenders are concerned. Rozsival has been a dumpster fire; there's no nice way of putting it. Rundblad plays well in the offensive zone, but is a disaster in his own end. Oduya has spent his contract year mired in inconsistent play, unless he's teaming up with Swedish countrymen Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Yet, the blame inexplicably falls on Crawford. In coming back from his left-foot injury in December, there were some struggles. He wasn't able to regain the same form he maintained prior to the injury and had him pegged as an All-Star. Prior to those last two starts, though, he allowed more than two goals in just two of his previous eight starts. The game is still there, but he needs the help in front of him. He hasn't gotten it. Whether it's the blue line or the general lackadaisical attitude the 'Hawks have demonstrated, there isn't a whole lot working in Crawford's favor at this point.
Many are of the opinion that the new two-year deal for Scott Darling is in some way indicative of Crawford's future in Chicago being up in the air. The thing about that is Crawford is a franchise netminder. The Hawks have invested quite a bit of money in him. He has a Stanley Cup under his belt, and helped the Blackhawks advance as far as they did in last year's postseason - the Western Conference Final. He continues to prove himself despite the myriad of questions he constantly faces. Which certainly raises questions about the sanity of those who are ready to turn the keys to the crease over to a career minor league goaltender who has less than a handful of career starts at the NHL level.
The blue line obviously needs to be addressed. Regardless, Crawford has solidified himself as the franchise netminder for this club moving forward. Darling isn't going to change that. Antti Raanta sure as hell isn't going to change that. With the past two games likely serving as a wakeup call for everyone involved, we should see an uptick not only in the performance in Crawford, but all parties. At least that's the hope. Until the Hawks get Crawford some help on the blue line, though, it's going to be tough to expect his numbers to play out at an elite level.
The bottom line, though, is that whatever delusions that folks have about Darling possibly supplanting Crawford as the Hawks' no. 1 in the near future could not be farther from the actual truth, or anything resembling a rational though. Crawford is the man. Darling or no Darling. Cap troubles or no cap troubles. He's proven himself in the postseason. He's a championship netminder. He's not going anywhere.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.