The Chicago Blackhawks will begin their 2014 training camp at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, and as we approach that milestone, we’re going through the top five storylines that fans should keep an eye on as camp begins.
Today, we continue our countdown with a question about goaltender Corey Crawford: Can he live up to his big new contract that takes effect this season?
During the course of GM Stan Bowman’s tenure at the helm of the club, the Blackhawks have been a team that has emphasized paying its defensemen to suppress shots while seeking value deals for the players that patrol the blue paint. We saw that with Cristobal Huet, who was sent off to Europe rather than retained on the NHL roster, and we saw it again with Antti Niemi, whom the Blackhawks parted ways with after he went to arbitration in 2010.
In the case of Crawford however, the team made an exception, signing him to a six-year deal that will pay him an average of $6 million per season through the end of the 2019-20 campaign. Crawford has played some great hockey for the Hawks over the years, nearly leading them to a massive upset of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 playoffs and helping guide them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2013. His numbers last year were a bit down from his impressive 2013 campaign, but a 2.26 goals against average was good enough for ninth in the NHL, so he still was a very capable goaltender.
The question facing Crawford now is a simple one: is he going to be able to live up to the contract that the team signed him to? After all, he’s going to be turning 30 years old in December, and even though he has worked hard on his rebound control and puck-handling, he still leaves something to be desired at times in the crease.
When you look at the players he’s paid similarly to however, you can see why the Hawks opted to give him the money that they did. Sure, you have players like Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Quick that are superior goaltenders (although one can argue that Varlamov is due for some regression, while Crawford has been relatively consistent), but you also have players like Ryan Miller and Cam Ward, who are both older and less successful in their careers than Crawford is.
Needless to say, there is a compelling argument that can be made that Crawford was given too much money by the Blackhawks, especially when considering that players like Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger will be looking for new contracts soon. Even with that being the case, Crawford still isn’t overpaid by that much, and he has proven through the years that he’s capable of excelling whether the defense in front of him is good or not.
The 2014-15 season is going to be a good indication of what to expect from Crawford now that his pockets are lined with fresh cash. Will he still be the same goaltender that carried the Blackhawks past the Minnesota Wild in this year’s playoffs, or will he be the goaltender that was outclassed by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012? Only time will tell.