When Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford went down with a groin injury against the Florida Panthers last week, many fans thought the worst. However, one week later, thanks to a little optimistic thinking, Crawford’s injury doesn’t seem so bad. Let’s take a look at the bright side, shall we?
Antti Raanta Emerges As NHL-Ready Goaltender
Crawford’s injury was doubled in magnitude, as back-up goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin was already on the Injured Reserve, leaving first-year pro Antti Raanta as the king of the Blackhawks’ crease. Many worried at how Raanta would fare, thrust into the spotlight after only 14 games in the AHL as the Rockford IceHogs’ top goaltender. Raanta has responded well, guiding the Blackhawks to the win in the remainder of the game on Sunday, as well as wins against the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, and Los Angeles Kings during the week. Raanta was exploited by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night, losing his first career game in regulation, but bounced back well under pressure on Sunday against the Kings, holding a shutout until the final minutes of regulation. Raanta is 6-1-1 to start his NHL career, and with a great team in front of him, he has been wonderful in the crease. If he keeps this play up, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman will have a tough decision to make when both Khabibulin and Crawford return healthy.
Blackhawks Bolster Goaltending Depth
Many thought that Bowman would rack up record minutes on his cell-phone bill in the hours following the Crawford injury, but he held tight for most of the week. Bowman finally pulled the trigger on Friday, acquiring experienced goaltender Jason LaBarbera from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for “future considerations”. The deal comes as a huge bargain, as the “future considerations” will most likely not include draft picks, players, or prospects, but merely the Blackhawks paying the final year of LaBarbera’s contract. The Blackhawks now have four NHL-ready goaltenders in their system (including Raanta), which will be immensely helpful, not only during injury times such as these, but for the Blackhawks’ farm team, the IceHogs, who are currently on the bubble in the AHL playoff picture. If LaBarbera happens to leave the Blackhawks for free agency in the summer, no harm has been done, but Chicago may have stumbled on a piece of their goaltending future with the trade, as the aging Khabibulin may not re-sign next year.
No Olympics Gives Crawford Time To Focus
Despite fans having a love/hate relationship with the 28-year old goaltender, Corey Crawford has proven to be one of the hardest-working Blackhawks, not only on the ice, but during the off-season. Crawford will now have a miniature off-season in February, as his hopes of representing Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are all but over. Crawford’s play proved that he is one of Canada’s top three goalies, but Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman will have a hard time selecting an injured net-minder to the team, and will go with three healthy specimens instead. Crawford can now use this time to work on his main goal: winning his third Stanley Cup. The time off will allow Crawford to work with Blackhawks’ goaltending coach Steve Weeks on improving his play, and also to rest from the fatigue that comes along with being the NHL’s leading goaltender in Wins throughout the entire season until his injury. Crawford will still be a candidate for the Team Canada job in 2018, when he will be 32 years old, and could possibly have more Stanley Cups, and even a Vezina Trophy under his belt.
Crawford is expected to be out until early January. There has been no official word on the severity of his injury, but he remains on the Blackhawks’ active roster.
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