Now that it’s after Labor Day, it’s time to put away the whites and get mentally prepared for yet another six month slog that will be an NHL regular season. To help with that, starting today and continuing throughout the month, we will be previewing a player off the Hawks’ 17-18 roster as well as a team elsewhere in the league. During this time it will also give everyone a chance to meet some new contributors to the Faxes From Uncle Dale Cinematic Universe. We hope you enjoy.
Even though seemingly no one wants to hear it, in part due to the faulty notion that the Blackhawks have obviated the goalie position with their success over this era, as well as the fact that there may be no incongruously unappreciated athlete in all of professional sports at the moment, this series will kick off with arguably the most important Hawk on the ice on a nightly basis- Corey Crawford.
55 GP – 32W-18L-4OT
.918S% – 2.55GAA
.930EV – .900PP – .859SH
A Look Back: Since fully seizing the reins of the #1 goaltender in the 2011-2012 season, Corey Crawford has been the utter model of consistency for the Blackhawks while occasionally getting their asses out of a sling. During that time, Crawford has been consistently in the top-5 annually for even strength save percentage, and rivals the likes of the much more expensive Henrik Lunqvist and Carey Price for cumulative numbers during that time. Corey Crawford is the only goalie to be the primary netminder on two Jennings Trophy (fewest goals against) winning squads and never be even a finalist for a Vezina, the other being Manny Fernandez who was a backup twice. It’s an utter miscarriage of hockey justice that Crawford is so disrespected around the league and even among his own fanbase. Simply put, Corey Crawford is one of the best values in hockey right now at $6 mildo against the cap, despite the tired old warhorse that gets trotted out about his glove hand or having a team in front of him that anyone could backstop. Neither of those things are true.
That was the case more than ever last year, as Crawford faced more shots per game than he ever has in career at 30.7, a number that has been increasing annually since its low-water mark of 25.6 during the rampage of the 48-game 2013 season. But even under the increased workload, Crawford still contributed his customary 3300-ish minutes (55 games worth) at a .930 clip at evens. It’s just that for the first time in this era, the skaters in front of him were allowing just about as many attempts against as they were taking themselves, which translated to his highest goals-against since the 2011-2012 season. Having an unlucky and wholly disorganized PK for the first month of the season did not help things either, as his save percentage on the kill dipped to .859, well below his average of .876 on the kill since the lockout year. But overall, Crawford’s consistency has been something that this team has come to rely upon more than ever, and is generally befitting of his traditional butterfly style, where angles and sight lines are trusted to make the exceptional look routine.
A Look Ahead: If the Hawks are to make any kind of noise in the same division as the defending conference champions (who embarrassed them in the first round of the playoffs), and get back to the Championship standard this organ-I-zation has been asked to be held to, then it will require just as much if not more out of Corey Crawford given the state of flux on the blue line. Duncan Keith isn’t getting any younger and his knee cartilage isn’t going to magically grow back, and Brent Seabrook certainly isn’t going to put the fork down any time soon. And with long-time puck absorber Niklas Hjalmarsson sent to the desert before he actually died on the United Center ice, it is going to take some serious growth from the kids in the defensive corps while the pairings are getting sorted out. And even when the pairings were for the most part stable last year, Crawford was still asked to do more than he ever had.
Fortunately for the Hawks, despite coming up on 33 on New Year’s Eve of this year, Crawford’s minutes have been pretty carefully managed over the years. That’s in part due to the scouting department being able to find adequate backups from the actual hockey hinterlands to be able to spell Crawford while managing to make said backups rich, but also due to Crawford himself being able to stay relatively healthy. Sure he’s been concussed, and of course mangled his ankle drunkenly falling down the stairs at a Rise Against show (and let he who has not been injured at a punk show cast the first stone), but these are impact injuries, and not generally the type that can derail a butterfly goalie’s career arc. Given the stance of a butterfly goalie with the knees turned inward and the mandate of taking away everything from the lower portion of the net, it is groin, hip, knee, and back injuries that will start to cause a goalie to lose the necessary lateral and vertical quickness even with prototypical butterfly size such as Crawford’s 6’2″, 220 lbs. And while the Hawks have been able to find adequate backups, enough exposure generally reveals just exactly why they were riding a charter in the ECHL. This is Crawford’s show plain and simple, despite the hew and cry from the unwashed masses.
While it sounds hyperbolic to say a team’s success hinges on one player in any sport outside of basketball, if the Hawks are to remain competitive to the degree they do not hesitate to tell everyone that they are, it is going to take another excellent season from Corey Crawford for them to do so, even if he will rarely get recognized for it.
All stats provided by hockey-reference.com