What an off-season the Blackhawks are having this year? Since the 2020-21 season ended it feels like it’s been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. However, after reflecting on some of the moves made by General Manager Stan Bowman, there’s one that is more confusing than people may have first realized.
After so many seasons of missing the playoffs and wallowing in mediocrity, the arrival of Marc-Andre Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks was quite a revelation. He wasn’t the only splashy move either. Yet, Fleury’s addition to the team almost made it seem like Chicago hadn’t had a high-caliber goalie that had won a Stanley Cup, in a long, long time. People were suddenly very excited about the team’s chances to succeed in the upcoming season. Except that this isn’t at all the case because fans seemed to forget about Corey Crawford.
It was only back in October of 2020 when news broke that Crawford, who was then 35-years-old, wouldn’t be returning to Chicago. It’s safe to say that a lot of people were stunned, myself included. It really looked like Chicago was prepared to embrace being a bad team so they could focus on transitioning to a more promising tomorrow. It made sense, people understood, and it was time to start rebuilding. Fine, onward and upward.
The now-retired Crawford is currently, 36-years-old, and it seems like forever ago that he and the Blackhawks split. Chicago’s new #1 guy, Fleury, is also 36-years-old. When I saw that I had to do a double-take. Chicago already had an extremely talented goalie in the organization. They didn’t need to bring in Fleury, who is signed for more than Crawford was asking. In fact, Fleury is being paid almost as twice as much as the last contract Crawford signed.
As was reported, Chicago offered Crawford 3.5 million/year, but then never negotiated further. He ended up agreeing to a deal with New Jersey for two years at 3.9 million/year, but then never reported to the Devils and retired. If Chicago had matched the deal that New Jersey offered him, the team would have kept a fan-favorite in the net, and for less money. Oh, and he won a couple of Cups, so it isn’t as if Crawford was just some guy they were signing to plug a hole in the roster.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it’s hard not to look at the about-face Chicago just made with the roster and not be confused by some of the lineup choices. At the top of the list, deciding who the primary starter was going to be for Chicago while the team appeared set on rebuilding itself. A couple of years ago, letting Crawford go was seen as a harsh, but maybe a necessary move. With the addition of Fleury, it makes sending Crawford packing look, to put it politely, bizarre.
Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what Chicago can do this season, but the change in the crease is going to be a lingering question. Why bring in an ageing, yet talented, goalie during a rebuild when the team made it such a point to part ways with an ageing, yet talented goalie so they could start the rebuild?
It doesn’t make sense. Fleury and Crawford are basically the same level of player. I have nothing against Fleury, and I hope he and Chicago have an amazing season for 2021-22. All of this is to say, maybe Chicago was a bit hasty to leave Crawford behind. It wouldn’t have hurt the Blackhawks to have kept him.