The Chicago Blackhawks saw unfathomable success between 2010-19. But, as 2020 came into focus there were a lot of questions surrounding the team’s roster, and goaltending stability started to become a major part of that discussion.
As of the start of the 2019-20 NHL season, Corey Crawford had been with the Chicago Blackhawks organization for 13 years and counting. Although many fans knew of him even in the early years, his spotlight began to shine a lot brighter as he took over the crease for the 2010-11 season. He played 57 games that year and racked up 33 wins, along with a .917 save percentage, 2.30 goals-against average, and four shutouts.
In his first six of his first seven seasons with the Blackhawks as a starter, he played in at least 55 games, taking full control as the team’s number one netminder. In that span, Crawford won two Stanley Cups, made it to the three All-Star games, and was awarded two William M. Jennings trophies as part of the goalie tandem with the fewest goals scored against.
Things were progressing nicely for Crawford’s career and his stats in a Blackhawks uniform, but that would begin to be challenged a few months into the 2017-18 season.
Crawford started to battle a variety of injuries, opening up the door and opportunity for other goalies to steal the crease that he once called his home. The team has since seen eight other goalies start games for them between the 2017-18 and 2019-20 seasons, including Scott Darling, Jeff Glass, Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube, Cam Ward, Collin Delia, Robin Lehner, and Malcolm Subban.
The acquisition of Lehner this past offseason seemed to be a self-awareness statement from the Blackhawks, signaling that a more permanent change in net was about to become their reality. Even as the team struggled to fight for a wild card spot, Lehner was racking up decent numbers with a 16-10-5 record. But then came the trade deadline and he was dealt with the Vegas Golden Knights for Subban.
The Blackhawks were left with Crawford and Subban to ride out the rest of the season. It seemed unlikely that they would be making it into the playoffs, but the team continued to battle onward.
Crawford’s calmness and resiliency have always been a noticeably respectable part of his game. His ability to bounce back after a bad goal, forgettable night, or tough injury is commendable. He’s had unparalleled success for the team and brought them to places they may not have reached if not for his work and accomplishments.
As this team moves forward in hopes to regain some of the success that became all too familiar in years past, major changes should be considered if the current equation isn’t calculating as they want it to.
The Blackhawks may need someone younger, more agile, and with greater endurance between the pipes. But it’s questionable if Subban is that goalie. Outside of a solid run in the goaltending mix with the Golden Knights, specifically, as he was thrust into starting more games as Marc Andre Fleury was plagued with injuries of his own, Subban has struggled to find consistency in his game. He has already played for three NHL teams in his only five seasons in the league thus far. Although he is shaping up to be a good choice at number two, he doesn’t seem ready to take over the crease as his own just yet.
Crawford is 35 with a $6,000,000 AAV and will become a UFA for the 2020-21 season. The Blackhawks do have modest depth in the goaltending position. Most notably, and outside of the acquisition of a proven veteran who can skate right into the starter’s crease, the focus should be on Delia. At 25 years old, and with a number of starts (and wins) already accumulated on his Blackhawks resume, he would be a solid choice to kickstart next season and see where he might be able to steer this squad.
Corey Crawford has earned his wins, awards, and respect. He will forever hold his rightful place in Chicago Blackhawks history. And we may never know how this roster would have ended the year, but one question still remains: Who will be in net at the start, and the end, of their next successful season?