Another season, another goalie problem.
Goalie controversies are becoming something of a defining characteristic of the Chicago Blackhawks organization. There have been two in the last two seasons alone: Niemi overtaking Huet in the 2009-10 season and then Crawford unseating Turco last season. Because of this, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that there is some talk of a goalie controversy on the Hawks this season.
But can the Hawks’ goalie situation truly be classified as a “controversy”?
When Ray Emery was signed to a one-year deal fans were left, not surprised, but slightly worried. After a very lackluster pre-season performance, where he was outplayed by Alexander Salak, a lot of fans were concerned that Emery wouldn’t be a suitable back-up for Corey Crawford, who was entering the season as the undisputed starter.
After a couple of shaky performances in his first few starts these concerns became magnified. Emery’s lack of mobility was painfully evident. Despite going 3-1-1 in his first 5 starts, Emery surrendered 18 goals, and although the defense in front of him was not spectacular, Emery was less than stellar. Because of this, Quenneville turned to Crawford to take the majority of the starts, while Emery only received 3 starts in November.
However, it became evident by mid-November that Crawford was starting to struggle. After starting the season with a 2.40 goals against average and a .912 save percentage in his first 10 starts, Crawford had a 3.25 goals against average and an .876 save percentage in his last 12 starts. Subsequently, Quenneville turned to Emery, who has sicne then taken the reigns.
Emery is 5-0-0 in his last 5 starts, with a 2.00 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. His recent play has started to raise some questions about who “the guy” is in Chicago, Crawford or Emery.
So do the Hawks have a goalie controversy?
In my opinion, the answer is no, there is no goalie controversy in Chicago, at least not a serious one. Emery is playing very good, so it would be foolish to go back to Crawford at this point, especially considering the fact that he could use the break to work on the struggling aspects of his game. If Crawford returns and continues to struggle, the controversy could become more serious as Emery would likely take over for the rest of the season. And that’s how it should be: the best goalie should play, regardless of what they’re contract is or what they’re labelled by the organization.
But even if Emery does take over this season, that doesn’t exactly mean thats it for Crawford. The big difference between this year’s goalie situation and those of the past two years is that in the past the Hawks had “starters” who they had no problem giving up on and young back-ups who could be considered future #1′s. This year the Hawks have a starter who they’re invested in and a back-up who probably was never in the long-term plans, but may have worked his way into them.
I don’t see any scenario where the Hawks flat out give up on Crawford, especially with so few options to replace him. There’s no question that, for whatever reasons, he’s suffering from a sophmore slump, but that doesn’t mean he can never recover from it. Crawford will be 27 at the end of this month. That’s still very young for an NHL goalie. And considering the talent he’s demonstrated in the past, he’s far from a lost cause.
So Emery taking the reigns this season doesn’t mean that the Hawks are finished with Crawford. If they’ve marked Crawford their “guy” then it will take a lot for him to sour on them. Take Carey Price and the Canadiens a couple years ago as a perfect example. Despite Halak carrying them in the playoffs, the Habs stuck with Price because he was their “guy”, their franchise goalie. So its safe to say that one bad season doesn’t exactly spell doom for Crawford.
Emery’s future on the other hand, is a very interesting subject. If Emery does take over, suddenly he becomes a valuable asset and maybe the Hawks considering giving him an extension. Even if he doesn’t take over, its probable that Emery gets resigned.
Some claim that Emery isn’t good enough to be an NHL starter. I somewhat agree, but I would also claim that he’s too good to be an NHL backup. Emery can be best described as a 1B goalie, who can take over if necessary but is probably best suited getting the smaller share of the starts. In my opinion, this would be a perfect fit for the Hawks who have a goalie who is still settling in as an NHL starter and could use someone reliable to back him up when he struggles.
Even if Emery does take the starting job for the rest of this season, I don’t see him taking it permanently, which is why whatever controversy there is isn’t serious. The Hawks will likely go back to Crawford next season regardless of what happens, probably with Emery backing him up. So we can do this all over again next year.
Thanks for reading.