Blackhawks put faith in Crawford

Corey Crawford cashed in on his Cup-winning season with a long-term contract Monday. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks' core has a new member.

When the core has been spoken of since winning the 2010 Stanley Cup, it’s been in reference to the Blackhawks forwards (i.e. Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa) and defensemen (i.e. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook) who have been kept together over the years and continually given the organization a chance to win multiple Stanley Cups.

And now a new player and position has been added to that group. Welcome goaltender Corey Crawford to the Blackhawks’ core.

With the announcement of Crawford’s six-year, $36 million extension on Monday, which also happened to be Crawford’s day with the Stanley Cup, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made the 28-year-old Crawford the Blackhawks’ goaltender of the future. Future Stanley Cups will be won or lost for the Blackhawks with Crawford in net through the 2019-20 season.

The Blackhawks’ hope, of course, is Crawford can consistently repeat what he did last season when he was one of the league’s premier goaltenders. He was tied for second in the league with a 1.94 goals-against average, tied for fifth with a .926 save percentage and fifth with a 67.9 quality start percentage (a stat created by Hockey Prospectus to determine a goaltender's consistency) among those with at least 15 starts. He continued that level of play in the playoffs and had a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 23 playoff games.

Until last season, Crawford’s first two years as a starter were full of ups and downs. He was above average in his first year and his play declined in his sophomore campaign, and the Blackhawks didn’t win a playoff series either season. The Blackhawks were optimistic Crawford would turn the corner in his third season, and that he did. He and others believed he was more focused and prepared before and during games last season than he ever had been before.

Bowman is obviously convinced Crawford has put his inconsistencies behind him. Crawford is the first goaltender Bowman has given a lengthy contract to since taking over as GM in 2009.

“There was never a question in our minds that we want to commit to him because it’s the most important position we have,” Bowman said on a conference call on Monday. “We have a lot of faith in his ability to continue, and he’s a young goalie. He certainly worked hard to get himself to the NHL. Now he’s proven he can do it at the highest level.

“The other things [with the salary cap] we’ll figure out as time goes on. A lot changes from year to year. We don’t have all the knowledge of where the cap will be in two years or three years. The one thing we do know is we will have a great goaltender. That’s why this is an easy decision for us.”

The Blackhawks did pay the going rate for a top-tier goaltender. Crawford’s deal is similar to what in recent years was given to the Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Smith, the Detroit Red Wings' Jimmy Howard, the Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen and the Nashville Predators' Pekka Rinne. They all signed 6-8-year deals from $5-8 million per season.

All the money and faith could put pressure on Crawford, but he didn’t believe that would be the case. He’s ready to add more Stanley Cups to the core's list.

“I don’t think [my mentality] changes at all,” Crawford said. “Every year the goal is to win. We work hard in the summer to get to a certain point in training. Going into the season, the goal is to win every year. It was fun to win last year and have a fun summer with it and I obviously have my Cup day today and do all that, but at one point you have to shut it all off and start all over again. I think we’re prepared to go at it again.

“It’s more of the confidence in the team has in me to try and repeat and go for more championships in the future. That’s the way I look at it. I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. I’m just going to compete hard as I’ve always done. I don’t want to add any extra things to what it means, but it’s definitely exciting. I enjoy it. I’m happy we can get it done. I’m looking forward to next year. It’s going to be great.”