Fitting during Chicago’s first substantial snowfall this winter the goalie situation for the Chicago Blackhawks becomes an even hotter topic than it already has been earlier this season.
As you likely already know, Chicago Blackhawks starting goalie Corey Crawford sustained a lower body injury during last night’s 6-2 rout of the Florida Panthers and had to be helped off the ice. By the way, can I just mention how hilariously ambiguous the NHL is when it comes to player injuries? If you’re keeping abreast of IR news in the NFL, for example, they’ll disclose so many explicit details regarding player injuries that you’ll have enough medical knowledge at the end of a season to have a decent go at the MCAT’s. NHL players by contrast seem to only ever have two injuries: upper body and lower body. But I digress…
To assist the Hawks’ last goalie standing, Antti Raanta, it was announced today that Blackhawks have recalled Rockford IceHogs’s goalie Kent Simpson, and retroactively placed forward Bryan Bickell on the IR. An Edmonton, Alberta native, the 21 year old Simpson has posted a 6-7 record in 15 games with the IceHogs and boasts a 3.38 goals-against average with a .900 save percentage. So the goalie tandem that has been helming the Rockford IceHogs are now reunited in Chi-town were the spotlights will be brighter and the stakes higher. PS – defenseman Michael Kostka was also recalled from Rockford to bulk up the blue line.
It should go without saying any team in the NHL that loses first their backup and then their starting to goalie to injury are on the edge of full-blown crises. However, once again with a team like the Blackhawks, things are more than meets the eye with this latest development, and if I may quote our city’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” So let’s take stock of a few things…
First and foremost, Crawford’s injury means he can finely get some time for rest and rehab. Myself and several of my esteemed colleagues here at Blackhawk Up have long been advocating Hawks goalie Corey Crawford has been playing too many games this season (as you’re probably aware anyway, due to your loyal readership), primarily because…well let’s be honest here, entirely because of the epic failings of Nikolai Khabibulin as the back-up net-minder. The aging Bulin Wall proved to have his own barriers this season in the forms of poor play and injury, leaving Crow as the Hawks sole protector between the pipes for numerous games when Khabibulin was placed on the IR with hurt feelings. Crawford leads the NHL in games played (27) and boasts 17 wins thus far this season. There is little to criticize about Crawford’s play, especially given how well he’s stood and delivered in the face so much extra ice time
However, the future-minded members of the Hawks fan base have long worried Crawford will be a worn out shell of his former self when the post season rolls around due to his extra innings in the net. Yet another aspect of the Blackhawks’ two Stanley Cup victories that is often over looked is that in 2010 and 2013, the Blackhawks had very fresh goalies heading into the post season. Antii Niemi gradually took over the starting job from Cristobal Huet over the course of the 2009-2010 season, and last year, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery split playing time so evenly their tandem was referred to as Cremery. History doesn’t always repeat itself, but it rhymes, and two championship rings say it’s very advantageous for the Hawks to have a spry and well-rested keeper between the pipes come playoff time. Can you still win a Stanley Cup with a goalie that’s played the bulk of the regular season? Absolutely (the most recent example being Jonathan Quick), but the two seasons Crawford went this route in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 season, the Hawks made first round playoff exits against the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes, respectively. Don’t get me wrong, I think Crow’s developed tremendously over the years and is more than capable of starting an entire regular season and then lead the Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup, but why tempt fate? So Corey, please take all the time you need to get to 110% so you can be recharged and revitalized for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. The rest of the Blackhawks can certainly hold down the fort.
Speaking of which holding down the fort is something Antti Raanta has clearly not had a problem doing. Yes he’s making rookie mistakes here and there and had his pants pulled down in the recent shoot-out loss to the Anaheim Ducks, but for a young goalie unexpectedly thrust into such a prominent role, that fallibility is to be expected, and he’s still 3-0-1 since he started wearing the indian-head sweater. With Kent Simpson’s arrival however, it’s a safe bet that Raanta’s play will improve because now there is more competition on the crease; Raanta and Simpson both have golden opportunities to impress and earn a better crack at their dream job of starting goalie in the NHL further down the road, so determination and grit will be the newbie net-minders’ new best friends in the coming weeks. Furthermore, the Blackhawks playing in front of Raanta and Simpson will no doubt escalate their play to protect what is now the weakest position on the team, and that kind of support will also help boost both the new keepers’ confidence.
Most importantly however, even with the goalie complications this season, the Hawks are still finding ways to win games and remain atop the standings. So again, Corey, please take your time to recuperate, and good luck Kent and Antii. You may have gotten on the Hawks roster in different ways, but you all share One Goal.
FOR THE DAGGER!