Nothing against Corey Crawford, but his newly inked 6-year $36 million contract, could very easily turn out to be an albatross, and very quickly.
Having said that, Crawford is a very good goaltender, and has the potential to be a great goaltender. This is especially true after the 2013 season, where he overcame a sea of doubters that grew from the soil of a dismal sophomore season in 2011-2012. He dominated the NHL and lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship.
This is WHY Crawford earned this enormous contract.
He showed the hockey world what he is capable of, while facing copious amounts of diversity along the way. It’s hard to blame Blackhawks General Manager, Stan Bowman for signing him to such a deal, when all of this is considered.
However, it’s the track record of goaltenders signing long-term contracts that is the frightening part of this story.
Goaltending in the NHL is one of the most up and down, back and forth, shockingly positive and horrifyingly negative roles for an athlete to play in ALL of professional sports. It might just be the most wild psychological roller-coaster for a pro-athlete to ride. One night, a goaltender get’s a big shutout that builds enough momentum for his team, that they go on a big winning streak.
This same goaltender for this same team gives up a soft goal in overtime that ends his teams winning streak in a very unceremonious fashion. Next up for this hypothetical goaltender is an ugly cold streak where doesn’t appear qualified to stop a beach ball. These cold streaks are cavernous black-holes that many never escape. This black-hole is even more cavernous when a goaltender has a big contract, like the one Crawford just signed.
Many sports fans are quick to denounce any player with a big contract, when they get into a slump. This can take a toll on any player’s confidence, and this is especially detrimental to a goaltender, where it’s arguable that confidence is just as important as skill.
Take a look at Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov was a very good, if not a great goaltender for the Phoenix Coyotes, from 2007-2011. It was this time-period where he played great, that earned him a mega 9-year $51 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, in the summer of 2011. As the 2011-2012 season started, Bryzgalov got off to a slow start, and never truly recovered. The fans and media were on him quick, as he was never able to make it out of the goaltender black-hole, as he let up soft goal after soft goal, and he only got deeper into the black-hole.
On June 27th of 2013, just two years after signing a 9-year commitment to play for the Flyers, Bryzgalov was bought out by the Flyers, as the team cut ties with the one great goaltender, and moving on from an albatross contract.
The Stan Bowman/Scotty Bowman formula for building a hockey team starts with establishing a great blueline core, and getting by with solid, but not great goaltending. Goaltending that looks much better with the great defense being played in front of them. The hockey budget is poured into defenseman, and forwards, and what’s left over is spent on solid goaltending.
The Corey Crawford contract raises some questions about Bowman’s plan, but we’ll see how this plays out.
Corey had an excellent season, and by all means earned his contract. If there’s a name in hockey that knows the game inside and out, it is Bowman. Although, it is hard not to think about how big of a gamble it is to hand excessive amounts of years and money to such an unpredictable position.