Sunday, March 8, 2015

On Blackhawks Goaltending

The Blackhawks starting goalie, Corey Crawford recently took fourth place in franchise wins (behind only first ballot Hall of Famers Tony Esposito, Glenn Hall and Ed Belfour), yet when goaltender Scott Darling was recently signed to a much deserved two year contract extension shortly before the NHL trade deadline there were calls for Crawford's head on social media.

The Blackhawks are in a very similar position to where they were in 1992 in regards to goaltending, a veteran climbing in franchise wins standings (Ed Belfour then, Corey Crawford now) and two capable rookies competing for the backup spot (Jimmy Waite (yes, the now goaltending coach) and Dominik Hašek (you may have heard of him)).

How things played out in 1992 (with Bob Pulford and Bill Wirtz running the Hawks and Ed Belfour's personality coming into play) was this: Belfour and Hašek split a deep playoff run before falling to the likes of Mario Lemieux and Jaromír Jágr in the Stanley Cup Finals who swept the series to win their second straight Cup. After the playoffs, Belfour felt threatened by the play of Hašek, who had been a complete unknown until that point, and went to management giving them a "he goes or I go" ultimatum. Hašek was shipped off to Buffalo, both goalies went on to Hall of Fame careers, meeting in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals as a Star and a Sabre.

Blackhawks management in 1992 opted not to trade their starting goaltender and instead traded the backup who was competing for minutes. Belfour was later traded to San Jose when he felt threatened by a different backup. 

Corey Crawford has proven he can win, he is forth in franchise wins behind the aforementioned Belfour, Hall and Esposito. Scott Darling and Antti Raanta are rookies, there is no telling what their ceiling is. Sometimes young goalies who get shipped somewhere else flourish (Hašek in Buffalo, Hall (came from Detroit) and Esposito (came from Montréal) in Chicago) but other times their play is more average or above average (Niemi, the Blackhawks 2010 Cup Winner, in San Jose). 

Red Wings fans in 1957, Canadiens fans in 1969 and Blackhawks fans in 1992 weren't expecting to lose a future Hall of Famer, however those are the rare cases where a young goaltender who showed signs of promise actually did work out. I do not know examples for the reverse because goalies changing due to the surroundings is very common, just look at Devan Dubnyk or Ray Emery the past few seasons.

I trust that Stan Bowman, and his support staff, including his father Scotty, who coached one of the greatest goalies every to play the game in Ken Dryden, know how to evaluate the current situation with three NHL caliber goalies, and if history is any indication, their plans do not include trading Corey Crawford. In fact, I can only recall two times a goalie was traded at the peak of his career when he was high in franchise wins: Ed Belfour (3rd in franchise wins) from Blackhawks to Sharks in 1997 and Patrick Roy (2nd in franchise wins) from Canadiens to Avalanche in 1995. In both cases the goalie had off ice issues with the team. There is no indication Crawford has any off ice issues that impact his play.

I cannot say that Corey Crawford will be in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day, though his numbers are pointing in that direction, however he is a proven winner and the veteran that is needed to mentor young goalies such as Scott Darling and Antti Raanta.

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