This is probably not the time to discuss it, as there will be plenty of opportunity starting in training camp. And whether Corey Crawford is Vezina-level again, or can’t find it at all, as the season moves toward the expiration of his contract at its conclusion, that question is only going to get bigger. But we’re not doing anything at the moment, so let’s at least get it started.
What prompts this is Kevin Lankinen’s gold-medal winning performance at the World Championships. Now, a hot two weeks doesn’t a prospect make. Lankinen only had 19 games at Rockford last year, and he wasn’t particularly good. He even spent some time in Indy. Then again, the year before, Collin Delia spent some time in Indy, had a hot few weeks in the AHL playoffs, and he’s something of the Hawks main prospect in net now.
Backing this up is that generally, Stan and his front office have been pretty good at identifying young goalies. That’s how I’m going to get around the whole Cam Ward thing. Stan has cycled through Antti Niemi, Crawford himself (only sorta but he did get the starting job under Stan), Antti Raanta, and Scott Darling, who have all had at least reasonable NHL success at times. They did salvage Ray Emery. A bunch of others haven’t worked out, but the ones that get to Rockford tend to be something.
Whatever, the Hawks likely will enter camp with Lankinen and Delia to battle it out for the backup spot. And anyone in the backup spot to Crawford these days has to be trusted to take the wheel for a stretch or two at least. This is a spot where the Hawks can save some cash, because any viable, veteran backup might eat up two to three million that can be used elsewhere.
But the question that will come with whoever wins the job (and you can see where they’ll rotate between the backup and Rockford and both gets starts on the top roster) is whether or not they’ll be ready to take over the following season. Or whether they’ll get the chance.
Crow is entering his age-35 season. And you’re hard-pressed to find too many goalies who go beyond that. I don’t think it’s fair to compare anything to Tim Thomas, as that appears to be a strange, tin-foil hatted, bunker-filling anomaly that won’t happen again. He came out of nowhere, which isn’t the story with just about anyone else, especially Crawford. Pekka Rinne just finished his age-36 season, and it was pretty all right in a total .918 and more encouragingly, he closed strong in March and April. Roberto Luongo had solid seasons at 35, 36, and 38. Beyond that though to find really good seasons past 35, you’d be hard-pressed. Good seasons, yes. Mike Smith had one (that’s not a name that will make you feel better though), Ryan Miller had one, one or two other names.
On the flip side, Henrik Lundqvist, perhaps the best goalie of the generation and one that Crawford has, y’know, the same lifetime SV% as, started to go stale last year at 36. To be fair, he was behind a horrible Rangers team, and his actual save-percentage at evens was higher than his expected, so maybe he was just drowning thanks to his defense. We’ll see next year.
It’s not that I’m worried about Crawford turning bad in the next year or two. That’s purely tied to health, and as we saw in March last season that a healthy Crow still put up a .920 behind one of the worst defenses of the decade. Even that Crow is still going to leave the Hawks with a decision.
The scenario you easily see, given what you know about the Hawks’ operating history, is that Crow has a blistering October and November, and is handed a two- or three-year extension right then and there. We know the Hawks like to take care of their guys. We know they don’t like to let anyone important get into the last year of their deal at all. Only Crow’s health has allowed him to get this far into his contract without an extension, I’m sure.
In a vacuum, you’d let it all play out. You see how Crow plays, you see how the kids play, you decide next summer. But we know the Hawks don’t operate in a vacuum, and they’re utterly terrified of facing questions like this during the season. They never really have. Keith was locked up to prevent that ever happening. Toews and Kane were re-signed as soon as possible. Seabrook signed his deal before the last year of his previous contract ever started. Going back farther, Patrick Sharp was extended before getting close to free agency. Hjalmarsson was signed to his last extension before the last season of his previous contract started as well. The Hawks just don’t do this.
But none of them were 35, or going to be in-season. None of them had the health industry. None of them, pretty much, had the sometimes dicey relationship with the organization that Crow has had in the past.
As we’ve previously discussed, the Hawks will have some big checks to sign next summer to Alex DeBrincat and possibly Dylan Strome, with smaller but possibly not insignificant checks to go to Dominik Kahun or Dominik Kubalik (and possibly Erik Gustafsson if they want to make a huge mistake). Savings have to come from somewhere.
I’m just not ready for any of this.