5 Contenders to Takeover Crawford’s Starting Role With the Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Blackhawks have some decisions to make this offseason, including whether or not they’ll be looking to see Corey Crawford return to their crease.

Corey Crawford has been an important part of the Chicago Blackhawks‘ success during his tenure with the team. He has earned pinnacle level achievements while making his way up all-time lists for the franchise.

After achieving his 50th postseason victory during the recent Stanley Cup Qualifiers, Crawford was then arguably the only reason the Blackhawks were able to remain competitive during their First Round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

This was all following a less than successful season for his squad, in which he split most starts with Robin Lehner before Lehner was traded to the Golden Knights at the deadline. Crawford went on to end the regular season with the best stats he’d earned all year.

Recognizing the Reputation

Crawford represents the epitome of what it means to be underrated in professional sports. He’s hoisted multiple Stanley Cups, earned NHL Awards, and made it into All-Star Games. Yet, he is rarely included in the conversation when it comes to who’s best.

Objectively speaking, Crawford has earned his spot amongst the elite across this league during this era of the game. His stats, accomplishments, records, and accolades prove that.

However, sometimes good things do come to an end. This offseason, Crawford is set to become a free agent. As he approaches his 36th birthday, and with his recent injury history, the Blackhawks may be looking to head in another direction.

That’s not to suggest Crawford wants out, as he’s explicitly stated he’d like to remain in Chicago. He also hasn’t done anything wrong to warrant being forced to leave, either. Simply stated, it might just be time for a change.

At the very least, the Blackhawks should consider bringing in another goalie to take over the starter’s workload. If Crawford does stay put, it needs to be in a more limited capacity. It would be in Chicago’s best interest to explore their options.

Defining Their Direction

This is a team that’s still working to redefine their place amongst the league’s most competitive. With the type of personnel turnover they’ve been forced to experience after their heights of success throughout last decade, a downturn of fortunes was due.

What’s interesting, though, is that this club continues to prove that they aren’t looking to simply tank for the sake of a draft pick. The veteran leaders set the tone that they’re there to win and all those developing under them follow suit.

Chicago is showing that they aren’t willing to strip it all down, just to build it all back up. Although they’ve had their struggles, cohesion reached new heights in the latter part of 2019-20. That leads fans to believe that they’ll continue to reach for more.

They also have Collin Delia in their system. He held his own through limited opportunities between 2017-2019, proving that he’s a viable option to rely on whenever Chicago needs him. Until he’s looked to as a starter, he’s a solid backup to support their progress.

So, with that in mind, what might be best for this Blackhawks team is to bring in a goalie who can step right into taking over their crease. Perhaps not yet as accomplished as Crawford, but one who has already shown that they could be on their way to such levels.

Exploring the Market

Salary cap implications will affect how much Chicago can afford to spend. This assessment is based more on what they’d look to do under ideal circumstances and assuming they’d make the necessary moves to permit such possibilities.

With these goalies set to become free agents in October 2020, their current teams may not let them get there. They could either be re-signed or dealt with hopes of a big return.

Chicago needs to be exploring these types of skillsets if they expect to carry forward and build upon recent momentum. Whether via trade or an attractive offer, the Blackhawks would be wise to consider these names.

Robin Lehner

With recent ties to the current Blackhawks’ roster, Robin Lehner would find his fit quickly within the lineup. Having been acquired by Chicago in the 2019 offseason, Lehner split starts with Crawford for most of the season until he was dealt to Vegas at the deadline.

He earned a better record than Crawford while in Chicago and then went on to win his first eight games with Vegas. After a career rejuvenating 2018-19 season, the now 29-year-old continues to reach even greater heights the more he gets to play.

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Matt Murray

Both of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ goalies are free agents this offseason. The general consensus is that they’ll be working to sign the younger Tristan Jarry, to then turn him into their undisputed starter moving forward.

Matt Murray earned his spotlight after helping the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups in his first two years in the league. Injuries cut into his playing time in recent seasons, but the 26-year-old continues to illustrate that there’s plenty of hockey left in him to play.

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Jacob Markstrom

The oldest on this list, Jacob Markstrom has reached a new tier of production throughout 2019-20. This season saw some of his best numbers to date, including a .918 save percentage, 2.75 goals against average, two shutouts, and even an assist.

Markstrom earned a record of 23-16-4 as the Vancouver Canucks surprised many with their rise to greater heights. At 30, Markstrom will be looking to extend his peak years for as long as he possibly can, while he works to elevate his play even further.

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Alexandar Georgiev

Even while the New York Rangers failed to earn much success in his first three seasons, Alexandar Georgiev found ways to illustrate his abilities. It seemed likely he’d be taking over whenever Henrik Lundqvist stepped aside. Until Igor Shesterkin showed up.

Shersterkin’s play has propelled him past Georgiev within New York’s plans. Georgiev is still only 24 and has already shown that he can effectively battle through less than ideal playing circumstances, focusing on doing his part to help the team.

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Mackenzie Blackwood

The most inexperienced and youngest on this list, 23-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood climbed all the way into the New Jersey Devils’ starting role this past season. The Devils haven’t done much winning, yet Blackwood has managed to accumulate respectable numbers.

Heading into only his third season in the league, Blackwood’s ability to effectively handle a heavier workload was impressive, all while showcasing his talents on the 26th place Devils. With years ahead of him to develop further, playing on better teams will certainly elevate his results.

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These are starter quality goaltenders, who can confidently fulfill the number one spot on the Blackhawks’ roster. Regardless of the levels of success they have earned to date, each appears poised to continue the trajectory of their careers for the foreseeable future.

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If the Chicago Blackhawks and Corey Crawford find a way to make a deal that sees him stick around, there are benefits to that scenario. However, if now is the time for a change in Chicago’s crease, these goalies should be included in that conversation.