One year after the Hawks spent an entire summer backhandely blaming him for them missing the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, Corey Crawford enters 2019 in something of a goalie competition for the long term. With new signee Robin Lehner coming off a career year an potentially primed to take this job out from under him, and his contract expiring after this year and no extension in place yet (which we will get to), Crawford might have some proving to do this year. Let’s dig in.
39 GP – 14 W, 18 L, 5 OTL
.908 SV%, 2.93 GAA
.916 SV% – .920 PP SV% – .853 PK SV%
A Brief History: The Hawks placed a lot of hope in Corey Crawford A) not having jelly for a brain after his concussion-riddled 2017-18 season and B) not playing badly after a concussion-riddled season at 33. He started the year pretty well and actually made it up to halfway through December before he got bumrushed in the crease and had his head smash into the goalpost, giving him his second bad concussion in as many seasons and only raising further concerns about potential jelly brain. He missed two and half months after that before returning at the end of February.
Crawford played pretty fine for most of the season, but ended the year with his worst save percentage since 2011-12 and the worst GAA of his career. Which, really, that just says a lot about how fucking good has been throughout his career, but his overall numbers indicated more of a high-caliber backup goalie rather than the goaltender you want behind a Cup contender. Not that the Hawks are any sort of Cup contender, but you know they want to at least think they are.
It Was The Best of Times: Is it too cliche to say that the best case scenario for Crawford is just to make it through 2019-20 without suffering another brain issue? I feel like I’ve been something of a broken record saying this for a year and a half now, but at a certain point there needs to be more consideration for Corey Crawford’s long term health and not what his value is to a hockey team. This isn’t fucking football where players are essentially willingly mortgaging their long term brain health in the pursuit of sports glory. Sure hockey is physical, and as a goalie you do place yourself at a greater risk of head injury, but this guy’s ability to live a long and happy life should be paramount, at least to himself.
Soapbox aside, given the amount and severity of his head injuries recently, I have to admit I am not expecting a huge amount from Crawford this year. I don’t think that in his age-35 season after having missed more than 90 total games in the past two years (via both sitting out and injury), it is reasonable to think he will ever be a .920 guy again. But with the Hawks seemingly set to run the 1A/1B system with Crawford and Robin Lehner, I think if he can be just a little better than he was last year, maybe post a .910-.915 overall SV% while staying healthy, that will be an excellent year for Crawford and might even let the Hawks sneak in the playoffs.
It Was The BLURST of Times: The worst case scenario for Crawford is that he continues down the unfortunate side of being an over-30 NHL player with a tough recent rash (skypoint Marian Hossa) of injuries and misses a big chunk of the season to more ailments. I obviously pray that wouldn’t be another head injury, but being 35 in sports opens the possibility for more physical ailments as well. What would compound this as worse for Crawford (though maybe not for the Hawks) would be if Robin Lehner proves that his 2018-19 campaign was not a fluke and really grabs the Hawks’ crease by the balls, while Collin Delia proves to be a more than adequate backup with an extremely affordable contract, and the Hawks decide they’d rather move on to younger and less broken players. It would be understandable, but still difficult to process.
I truly pray this worst case scenario does not play out because it would result in Crawford getting the big time Jay Cutler teatment here in Chicago – despite being among the best at his position that the city has even seen, he will never have been appreciated as much as he should have been. But like, way better than Cutler ever was, and yet somehow appreciated even less. He was a top-5 goalie in the NHL for years and got none of the recognition either here or nationally, and the organization seems to have more disdain for him than he does for remaining sober at concerts. And the fans never got over the GLOVE SIDE bullshit that became a fucking stupid narrative in 2013 despite him really being their best player in those playoffs. And while Scott Darling did need to save them slightly in 2015, Crawford was dominant after getting the crease back and probably deserved that Conn Smythe as well.
Prediction: Crawford remains mostly healthy and plays at a similar level to last year, finishing with a .907 SV%. Overall he gets outshined by Robin Lehner, and the two combine for a .910 that keeps the Hawks competitive and they slip into the playoffs, where Lehner is the starter and Crawford only gets in if Lehner struggles. The Hawks re-sign Lehner to a longer-term deal and make it clear to Crawford that his roll going forward is as a year-to-year backup, because if we’ve learned anything throughout Stan Bowman’s tenure as GM it’s that he takes care of extensions for guys he thinks will be part of the future early, regardless of the risk (lookin at you, Nacho) and given that Crow hasn’t had that happen yet, the writing is already on the wall.
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