This first appeared in our gameday program’s From The Editor before Game 4.
For the first time in the Quenneville era, the Hawks have a playoff goalie controversy. Hard to believe, given how some people think around here. But whatever goalie issues the Hawks have had in the past have always resolved themselves. In 2009, Nikolai HarveyBirdMan grabbed the job from Cristobal Huet well before the playoffs. In 2010 Huet basically spit up the job to Antti Niemi, as much as Niemi taking it. Corey Crawford was well established as the starter in 2011. As wonky as Crawford got in 2012, Ray Emery was much worse and thus never an option. We all know about 2013, when Crow should have won the Conn Smythe but didn’t thanks to a narrative Pierre McGuire and NBC decided to pound for reasons that still escape me. Last year, Crow was really good until faced with immense pressure by the Kings and Antti Raanta was never an option either.
That brings us to this year. But the seeds for this year were sown before, and I can’t really figure out why. The organization certainly hasn’t pushed Crawford out in front of its marketing like others, and the fans in this town have never really warmed up to him.
Why is that? Are people still scarred from 2012? Because fans are supposed to love a redemption arc, and the fact that Crow was able to recover from that playoff outing and back it up with a Cup run should be that redemption story. Shouldn’t that have won everyone over forever?
Championships in this town seem to buy everyone else a lifelong pass. Look at Mike Ditka for fuck’s sake! How many members of the ‘05 White Sox, who were never as good again, faced this kind of scrutiny? I can’t think of one, but I’m not a Sox fan so feel free to let me know if I’m missing anyone. I’m not even sure Ozzie Guillen is a good manager so much as a good mouth, but I never heard anyone say that before he left the Sox.
Is it because of the L.A. series last year? Because no goalie could stand up to that pressure (Jonathan Quick certainly didn’t at the other end). Henrik Lundqvist, probably the best goalie of this generation, couldn’t either. Every time he looked up Martinez or Doughty were teeing one up from between the circles or there were two guys in his crease while Seabrook gaped vacantly and aimlessly. Are people really blaming Crawford for a Game 7 OT loss? You know where I think blame for that lies.
It can’t be because he’s a bad guy, because he most certainly isn’t. I doubt that fans care that he got a bit swear-y at the ‘13 parade. Hell, I bet most found it endearing. I also doubt most fans care that he got hurt at a concert, most likely when he was a bit drink-y. Again, most would probably find it endearing, as we’ve all been there, not matter how much the Hawks organization wanted you to be mad at him for it (and they did).
Crow has never hidden when he’s had a bad game. He’s never snapped at the press as far as I can remember. He’s gone about his job. His teammates love him. He’s even stood up and said how much he roots for Scott Darling. What’s the problem here?
I’m not here to say Crow should be in net right now. The decision is certainly justifiable. But Crawford will be needed again, I think. I’m not ready to buy into Darling as a certified starter yet. I was relieved that Darling started Game 3, only because I knew the atmosphere would be so poisonous for Crow and one goal would have seen three-quarters of the UC turn on him (at least).
My only conclusion is that with what is still a neophyte fanbase, and let’s face it, it is, when the Hawks lose most of the bandwagon fans just assume the goalie is to blame. It’s the easiest conclusion after all, and there aren’t many besides ourselves delving any deeper than that.
Crow isn’t the reason the Hawks lost Game 2. He isn’t the reason they were so far behind in Game 1. His team abandoned him in both for long stretches, and unlike his actions for all of March and April he couldn’t bail them out. No, he wasn’t good, but I just don’t get this push to get him out of town as quickly as possible.
Is it the money? I know once someone gets paid in this town it’s basically over for them in the court of public opinion. That’s just unfair. Crow didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head to get his contract. It’s not like he’s ever dogged it. You want a goalie who did that, look no farther than Khabibulin, until it was time to play for another contract. He did it to the Hawks twice, in fact, in case you forgot he was a Hawk briefly last year which led to the whole Antti Raanta experience in the first place .
It feels like the Hawks’ organization would love to push Crow out the door too, even though it’s their mistake he got that money (though that’s not really a mistake). Which is weird considering the affection they usually have for anyone who helped bring a Cup home (oh, hi there, Rozsival and Handzus!). Color me bewildered.