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And So It Begins – ’13-’14 Hawks Preview: The Man In The Very Expensive Mask

Fun note. We saved all these questions on a Google document, and it’s all under the “Drive” menu. Every time I click it, I just keep saying, “Hey, kids, where are you? Nobody tells you what to do….” I also just told you that because REM references piss off McClure to no end. Anywho, let’s keep this train a’rollin’.

Today’s question also comes from Laarmer:

Crawford. Good or bad?

I feel like we’re going to be pretty exasperated writing about Crawford this year. I just feel  it. And let me tell you why.

It seems so far in the distance now, but remember before the start of last year, a lot of Hawks fans had already written off Crow. Some were calling for Ray M. Murray even before the season started, somehow forgetting that Emery was possibly the worst backup in the NHL in ’11-’12. Some were wondering why the Kane-for-Miller trade hadn’t been pulled. Some were dyin’, some were weepin’, some were studyin’ some were sleepin’, some were shouting, “Texas #1!” (gold stars to anyone who gets that one without looking it up).

At the time, we wrote repeatedly that ignoring Crawford’s rookie year after his sophomore one wasn’t fair, and the truth was probably somewhere in between — while leaning more toward his rookie year.

And I think we need to write the same thing again.

Coming off the Jennings Trophy, what should have been the Conn Smythe, and a new extension (though that doesn’t kick in until next year), the microscope will fully be on Crow. But after three years of watching him, I think I can safely say that he’s probably not what we saw last year. Nor is he the disaster of the previous campaign. The truth is probably in the middle, which would look a lot like his rookie year.

Let me remind you what those numbers looked like: 57 games, 2.30 GAA, and a .917 SV%. Not bad for sure, not stellar or Vezina worthy. However, the difference in his first year as starter and last year is that Crow saw 27 shots per game in ’10-’11 and only 25 per last year. It doesn’t sound like much, but it does make a difference.

What’s going to be funny is Crow will be looked at in the anti-money light that Chicago fans specialize in, even though he won’t actually be making that money this season. Just watch what happens the first time he has two bad starts in a row. There will be many jokes about his glove hand, even though most goalies are beat to their glove hand (used to be the book on King Henrik I believe, until he was forced to improve it).

The bottom line here is that Crow probably isn’t going to steal as many games as he did last year (though it’s hard to remember too many he won on his own), but the Hawks returning the same blue line shouldn’t require him to. He’ll be good. I wouldn’t count on great. But that’s more than enough for this team.

While we’re on goalie discussions, Nikolai Khabibulin as backup is going to make for a pretty fascinating watch. It’s a role he only recently came to, and that was mostly because of injury and not necessarily because Devan Dubnyk (Dubnyk!) was that good. Khabby’s .910 and .923 SV% of the past two years would do just fine. The big difference is that Khabby saw 29 shots per 60 two years ago and a kind of astounding 32 per last year. Even his save percentage of .910 with the 25 shots per game the Hawks gave up last year would see a GAA of 2.25. No one would complain about that.

But it’s Khabibulin’s persona that worries everyone (and his sobriety). He appears to have accepted what he is now, otherwise he never would have taken a deal here. Maybe he thinks one good year as a backup with a powerhouse could get him one more fat contract next summer. Considering the amount of muppets that are GMs in the NHL these days, that’s not totally ludicrous. He’s been good behind the Hawks style of play in a contract year before. It wasn’t so long ago. Maybe lightning strikes twice.

It’s when Khabby gets hurt that there could be issues. Q will be tempted to ride Crawford through that, but in a year where he might travel to Sochi, can the Hawks get a few starts from a 3rd guy to keep Crow’s workload down? Look for it to be Raanta, as Carruth is going to need more seasoning for sure.

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