Veteran netminder Corey Crawford carried the Blackhawks through the early season but struggled to regain top form after December bout with appendicitis
The 2016-17 season was certainly a long, strange trip for Corey Crawford, whose December brush with emergency illness put a serious dent in a remarkable year for the Chicago Blackhawks’ veteran goaltender. Nonetheless, Crawford persevered to start 55 games and backstop the Blackhawks to the Western Conference title.
With the NHL Entry Draft looming close on the horizon, and my colleague Sean Fitzgerald scrambling to sort all the trade rumors swirling around the ‘Hawks, we’re also grading each of the Blackhawks’ performance last season. Here’s a look at Crawford.
2016-17 regular season statistics: 55 games, 32-18-4 record, 2 shutouts, .918 save percentage, 2.55 goals against average.
2016-17 postseason statistics: 4 games, 0-4 record, .902 save percentage, 2.83 goals against average.
Leader of the pack
Coming off one of his best years in 2015-16 when he led the West in both save percentage (.924) and shutouts (7), Crawford pretty much carried the Blackhawks through the first six weeks this season when the team was struggling to score and kill penalties. In his first 20 starts, Crow went 12-6-2, notching both of his season’s two shutouts and posting a stellar even-strength save percentage of .954.
For his efforts, Crow was named the NHL’s second star of the week in early November when he posted a 1.0 goals against average over three games in the middle of the Blackhawks’ early season seven-game win streak.
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Then disaster struck. On Dec. 2, Crow was rushed to a Philadelphia hospital for an emergency appendectomy that sidelined him for three weeks and ten games. Backup netminder Scott Darling went 6-3-1 in relief, and former college-club goalie Eric Semborski got 15 minutes of fame when he was called to backup Darling in the ‘Hawks’ 3-1 loss to the Flyers on Dec. 3.
Crawford returned to action Dec. 23 in a hard-fought 2-1 overtime loss to Colorado in which he appeared fully recovered while stopping 32 of 34 shots, including an incredible diving save on the Avs’ Mikko Rantanen that Blackhawks fans recently voted Save of the Year.
Struggle down the stretch
In the second half of the season, Crawford went 20-12-2 but never regained the league-leading form he showed before his illness. Sure, the ‘Hawks had a fabulous run in February and early March where they won 17 of 19 games to lock down both the division and conference crowns, but the team was clicking offensively then while Crow’s statline was heading south.
Over his last 34 regular-season games, Crawford’s save percentage dipped to .914 and his goals against average ballooned to 2.71. Crow was having trouble again stopping shots high-glove side or sealing the post against sharp-angle leakers.
Along with the rest of the ‘Hawks, things for Crawford went from bad to worse in the playoff series against Nashville where his .902 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average guaranteed another early exit for summer vacation. When the ‘Hawks had a chance to win Games 1 and 3, Crow couldn’t make a big save to steal Game 1 or slam the door with a two-goal lead in Game 3.
Despite the drop in performance over the last three months of the season, Crawford finished the regular season with an overall statline at or close to his career averages. More importantly, the 32-year-old netminder was still showing the confidence, quickness, athleticism and superior puck tracking skill that made him a two-time Stanley Cup champion.
Not surprisingly, Crawford’s name and $6.0 million cap hit have popped up among all the trade rumors flying around these days. Crawford’s contract runs thru the 2019-20 season, but among the six NHL goalies who are paid the same or more than Crow, only one, Boston’s Tuukka Rask, has raised a Stanley Cup. Could Stan Bowman find a way to trade Crawford? Sure. He could also find a way to trade Patrick Kane.