Chicago Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford Most Important For 2017-18

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Goalie Corey Crawford
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 15: Goalie Corey Crawford /

If the Chicago Blackhawks will have any success during the 2017-18 season, they’ll need goaltender Corey Crawford to play at a near-superstar level

There is no chance whatsoever of a goaltender controversy for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017-18. There wasn’t really one before then, either, but enough of the fan base was more interested in seeing Scott Darling than Corey Crawford in net that there was at least something to mumble and grumble about.

Darling is now gone, an offseason casualty via trade to the Carolina Hurricanes. In his place are the likes of Anton Forsberg and J.F. Berube, who each have fewer than 20 NHL starts under their belts. And that means a heavy workload is coming for Crow.

The two-time Stanley Cup winner is familiar with the concept, having made at least 55 starts in six of the last seven seasons (the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign being the exception). He’s maxed out at 58 starts, but likely would have surpassed that mark by now if not for some injuries the last couple seasons.

On that note, there’s some good news for those Blackhawks fans who enjoy seeing Crow in net: We’re going to see him at a record-setting pace in 2017-18, at least if Chicago wants to contend for a championship.

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One steady presence is in net

The Blackhawks have experienced plenty of roster overhaul in the salary cap era, but I’m not sure they’ve ever had as much roster uncertainty as they do heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

Coach Joel Quenneville‘s team doesn’t even have one set-in-stone forward line. You can guarantee Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov will be on the top six, and that’s about it. You know the other names, but not exactly where they’re plugging in.

Things are worse on the blue line, as there’s no true way of knowing how the pairings will shake out. Niklas Hjalmarsson is gone, and things get entirely uncertain beyond Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. That’s not to mention the possibility of general manager Stan Bowman bringing in another defenseman with the future long-term injured reserve cap space of Marian Hossa.

So when you turn to the goal, it’s relieving to see there’s at least a steady presence involved. While the backup situation is nowhere near as steady now as it has been in previous seasons, Crawford is standing tall as the starter.

We’re talking about a 32-year-old goaltender who, in the last three regular seasons, has the fifth-most wins (99) in the league and sixth-most minutes played (9,902 and change). He also has the fourth-best save percentage among regular starters in that timeframe (.922).

And while he’s played at least 1,000 minutes fewer than five goaltenders in the league during the last three regular seasons, he’s within, at most, 466 shot attempts faced of all of them. AKA the guy has not received an overwhelming amount of help from his forwards and defensemen in the last three seasons so far as shot suppression is concerned.

He has a career regular-season save percentage of .918 that rises to .919 in the playoffs. He has a career quality start percentage of 60.1 when league average is around 53. He’s contributed at least an estimated 11 points per regular season each of the last three years, maxing out at 12.0 in 2015-16.

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  • So I’d say steady is the right word to use for Crow, outside of the times he’s suffered injury or illness.

    Why he needs to be even better

    But Crow is going to be asked to do a lot in 2017-18. His likely backup in Forsberg has nine career starts at the NHL level, winning one. The forwards and defensemen, as previously mentioned, are in a certain state of disarray.

    A lot can change by the time the regular season starts. But as of right now, Crow is going to need to be a near-immovable rock if the Blackhawks want to be anywhere near Stanley Cup contendership.

    He was having a really strong 2016-17 campaign before an emergency appendectomy in early December. Things were inconsistent after that. The Blackhawks cannot afford major stretches of inconsistency from Crow in 2017-18.

    That’s not to say he’s going to shoulder the blame should the Blackhawks have a rough regular season. On the contrary, unless Crow out and out gives up his net intentionally, he’ll likely be a key reason the Blackhawks experience any success, along with guys like Kane, Toews, Saad and Anisimov.

    But he’s going to have to be closer to his performances from 2014-15 and 2015-16 for the Blackhawks to feel comfortable. In those two regular seasons, Crow finished with a .924 save percentage and goals-against averages of 2.27 and 2.37, respectively. Those numbers slipped to .918 and 2.55 last season.

    Some of this had to do with a porous defense in front of him, but the 2015-16 defense was pretty rough, too. Crow will have to be closer to the guy who finished sixth and fifth in Vezina Trophy voting, respectively, than the one who wasn’t in the hunt last season.

    If he’s just “fine” or even “good,” it may not be enough for Chicago. Consistent scoring is really only guaranteed from Kane, despite Anisimov having a career year last season and the Saad-Toews connection reforming. Youth and new acquisitions make consistent goals an uncertainty throughout the lineup. Defensive pairings are totally up in the air, and the two biggest pieces of the defense have looked on the older and slower side in recent games.

    But if you get “great” from Crow, then you have something. It can really jumpstart an entire team to have its goalie standing on his head, stealing games and motivating the guys in front of him to want to support all his hard work.

    Next: Blackhawks Sign Collin Delia To Two-Year Deal

    That’s worked in the past for Chicago as a motivational technique on more talented teams. In 2017-18, it may just be a way of life if the Blackhawks want to have any sustained success.