Two weekends ago, the NHL Network, that veritable cadre of hockey punditry, came out with its list of who they consider to be the Top 10 starting goalies entering the upcoming 2017-2018 season.
Now, whatever you might think of Kevin Weekes, Brian Lawton, Dave Reid or E.J. Hradek, the fact of the matter is that after the dust settled, when all was said and done, one name was missing: Corey Crawford.
I guess Weekes and company forgot that since taking over the net from Antti Niemi in 2010, the Blackhawks have never missed the playoffs with Crawford as their starting goalie. The only other goalie on the list who can say this for himself is Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. The “King” has led the Blueshirts to the playoffs in 11 of his 12 seasons as starter.
They also seem to have overlooked the fact that Crow’s .918 save percentage last season was better than four of his contemporaries that were included in the list and is tied with one.
“He’s piggybacking on this team’s success because Toews and Kane are so good”.
“He only has those numbers because he has Keith and Seabrook in front of him”.
“Man, Crawford has a leaky five hole”.
“Man, Crawford’s glove hand sucks”.
“Man, Crawford can’t play the puck to save his life.”
I’ve always thought that Crawford was a victim of the Blackhawks’ success. Ever since taking over the starting role from Antti Niemi a season after the club winning its first Stanley Cup in 49 years, Crow has gone through the gamut with the Hawks faithful. Even during the lockout season of 2012-2013, when Crow and backup goalie Ray Emery posted Jennings Trophy-worthy numbers, and Crow backstopping the team as it battled to capture its second Stanley Cup in three years, Chicago fans still treated Crawford as if he was the team’s red-headed step-child.
This reached a fever pitch during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Crawford gave up three goals in the first period against the Nashville Predators. Backup, and Lemont native, Scott Darling turned in a tour-de-force performance, blanking the Preds through two regulation periods and two overtime periods, leading the Blackhawks to an upset win.
For days, Hawks fans and the Chicago media (who barely cover the Blackhawks anyway, but I digress) were after #50’s head, prognosticating the rise of Scott Darling and relegating Crawford to backup and a possible trade chip for Stan Bowman once the offseason starts. Eventually, Darling fell back to earth, Crawford relieved him in the second period of Game 3, where he blanked the Preds in two periods of play, leading to a 4-2 Blackhawks victory. Crawford didn’t lose his net for the entirety of the playoffs, culminating with a 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, leading the Blackhawks to their 3rd Stanley Cup in seven years.
Since winning what is arguably the defining shutout win of his career, Hawks fans and the media have been more supportive of the “Crow”, as he is affectionately called by his teammates.
Crawford is now entering his age-33 season. Assuming that he stays healthy the entire season, he will be playing his 400th NHL game. Also, assuming that all goes well for the Blackhawks in the season, Crow will be overtaking such names as Arturs Irbe, John Ross Roach, Marty Biron and Tim Thomas in career wins, likely before the calendar turns over to 2018.
I would argue that Crawford is just entering his peak. Apart from last season, he has almost always put up Vezina-worthy numbers. I guess it is just the price you pay for coming from the same country as Carey Price and Braden Holtby, which I guess is also the reason why it is easy to overlook Crawford in terms of greatness as opposed to Sergei Bobrovsky and Jonathan Quick, who are arguably the best goalies from their respective native countries of Russia and the United States.
Crawford will always be an integral part of this team. He will always play a huge role in every two points that the Blackhawks will earn this season and for subsequent seasons to come. In this writer’s humble opinion, Corey Crawford is top ten. No question.
He just won’t get any respect for it. No respect at all.