It’s mid-August and hockey fans have entered that time of year they dread the most, the off-season after the NHL draft and free agency are over. This holds especially true in Chicago, where Chicago Blackhawks summer of uncertainty is causing their fans tremendous angst. After finishing out of the NHL playoff race, the Blackhawks faithful have not had much to look forward to this summer. The team’s goaltending has recently been a hot topic. Especially when it comes to the health of Corey Crawford.
Chicago Blackhawks Summer Goaltending Uncertainty
Once Corey Crawford went down for the season last December, the team’s chances of making the playoffs became astronomically diminished. Crawford had single-handedly held his team in games up until his season-ending ailment. Crawford’s record was at 16-9-2, with a goals-against of 2.27. His save percentage was .929, which was among the best in the league.
After Crawford went down, goaltending duties became a rotation of goalies trying to provide “starter quality minutes” behind a suspect defence. Listed below are the other goalies who played minutes for Chicago last year:
- Anton Forsberg 10-16-4 – Goals against of 2.97 – Save percentage of .908
- Jeff Glass 3-7-3 – Goals against of 3.36 – Save percentage of .898
- Jean-Francois Berube 3-6-1 – Goals against of 3.78 – Save percentage of .894
- Collin Delia 1-1-0 – Goals against of 3.96 – Save percentage of .889
As you see, the Chicago Blackhawks goaltending dropped off dramatically after Crawford’s injury. None of his replacements could take the reins and give Vezina-quality goaltending that he did. All of the goalies suffered playing behind a porous defence which was prone to giveaways and bad defensive-zone coverage. It became clear that Crawford was the main reason the Blackhawks remained in the playoff picture in the first half of the season.
Goaltending Solutions Offered
While Crawford’s status has been kept secret, the team made a move in free agency on July 1st. The Blackhawks signed Cam Ward as a free agent to a one-year, $3 million contract. Ward brings experience with a career record of: 318-244-84. He has a goals against average of 2.70, and a save percentage of .909 over 13 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ward joins Anton Forsberg in the competition to back up Crawford. Unfortunately for Blackhawks fans, Ward and Forsberg may be initially battling for the starting job in camp. Crawford’s health is still a question mark for the Blackhawks. At the recent Blackhawks fan convention, Crawford was quoted by Chicago Sun Times writer Mark Lazerus:
Crawford said he’s “feeling pretty good right now, [but] I am not at 100 percent yet.”
“In fact, his eyes reddened a bit and his voice wavered when he was asked about the last seven months and whether he, at any point, feared for his career or his long-term health. He wouldn’t go into specifics about the injury or the recovery process, but his voice betrayed his feelings.”
This news was a major blow to the Chicago locals who had been told all along by the Blackhawks that Crawford would be ready by training camp. With Crawford not yet 100%, many are wondering how fast the upcoming season will go off the rails. Ward and Forsberg will be challenged to compete for the starter’s job if Crawford is unable to play. Whether they can provide quality starts and consistency in net are questions that loom large as the season approaches.
More Goaltending Concerns
For another take on the Crawford situation, check this out from James O’Brien of NBCSports.com:
“1. What’s going on with Corey Crawford?”
“In late-July, Crawford addressed questions about his health, expressing some vague optimism about possibly being ready for Blackhawks training camp. At the same time, he also admitted that he hasn’t resumed skating. Yikes.”
The fact that Crawford hasn’t started skating yet is not good news in Chicago. It appears that signing Cam Ward may be the Blackhawks most important free agent of the summer. Goaltending duties may fall to Ward and Forsberg if Corey Crawford isn’t ready by the opening of training camp on September 15th. One month is not a lot of time for Crawford to train and be ready for the season opener.
If Ward and Forsberg struggle in net, the Blackhawks may have to look to their minor league team in Rockford for help in goal. The Ice Hogs have the recently signed Kevin Lankinen and the surprise of last years AHL playoffs Collin Delia. In the recent AHL playoffs, Delia was outstanding with a record of 7-3 with a goals against average of 2.34 and save percentage of .924 for the Ice Hogs. Of the two, Delia may be the dark-horse to challenge for a spot of the opening night roster if Crawford isn’t ready.
Count Down to Training Camp
As the clock ticks away towards training camp, many are hopeful that good news will develop regarding Crawford’s health. So much is riding on Crawford returning to his former self as the regular season begins. The Blackhawks will need someone to step up if Crawford’s return is delayed. Who that will be is the huge question on everyone’s mind.
In the upcoming Chicago Blackhawks Summer of Uncertainty Part Two, we will look at the much-maligned defence corps of the Blackhawks. After last season’s debacle, they are needing a bounce-back year. Will they be able to develop into a top defence corps again?
Main Photo: CHICAGO, IL – JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)