CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks general manger Stan Bowman will have to make some tough decisions this offseason.
He will have to get rid of players he would prefer not to, players who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup on Monday and likely assisted them in capturing a previous Cup or two. But this is the reality of the salary-cap world the Blackhawks are entering with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews’ extensions going into effect.
The rumors of whom Bowman will move have been swirling nearly all season. Bowman disposed of one of those rumors as he stood on the ice amid the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup celebration Monday night. He declared Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford untouchable this offseason.
“Oh, yeah, you can’t win without goaltending,” Bowman said.
To some, Bowman’s view on Crawford seems obvious. Others, at least until recently, still doubted Crawford and floated his name among potential trades. When Crawford stumbled to begin the playoffs, and backup Scott Darling emerged against the Nashville Predators, Crawford’s critics had a field day. They loved seeing him fail.
Crawford accepted the blame for his poor play and never expressed any bitterness at Darling. He hoped for a second chance and was given it late in the Predators series.
Crawford carried that second chance all the way to the Stanley Cup.
During the Blackhawks’ sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the second round, he held the Wild to one goal in Game 2 and no goals in Game 3, and he stopped 124 of 131 shots for a .947 save percentage in the series. Against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference finals, the Ducks’ offensive power at times got to Crawford, but when the Blackhawks needed him most, Crawford came through. He made 65 saves on 70 shots over the final two games, and the Blackhawks overcame a 3-2 series deficit.
Crawford saved his best for last in the Stanley Cup finals. He made 151 saves on 161 shots for a .938 save percentage in six games against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In the Blackhawks’ four wins, he had 102 saves on 105 shots. Over the final three games, all wins, he gave up a total of two goals and didn’t allow a single one in a third period.
Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya officially closed the book on doubting Crawford.
“There’s nothing to say anymore,” Oduya said. “I think we’re done talking about his performance or not. To win the Jennings Trophy twice, to win the Stanley Cup twice, I’m not going to answer any more questions about Corey Crawford.”
Bowman wasn’t as emphatic, but he felt the same way about Crawford. Bowman gave Crawford a six-year, $36 million contract after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013 because he believed Crawford could be the goaltender to lead the franchise to even more Cups. Bowman hasn’t seen any evidence to contradict that belief.
“I don’t understand why he’s not revered more than he is,” Bowman said. “He’s a winner. He’s a big-game boy, and he’s won two Cups now. I don’t know how many goalies nowadays have. I don’t know if there’s any. It’s not easy to do. It’s not a fluke. He’s been tremendous. Hats off to Corey for the effort that he gives, for the success he’s brought to the team.”
Just as he did to pucks on Monday, Crawford, as usual, turned aside questions about himself after his turn with the Stanley Cup. He talked about the team effort in the third period. He praised Darling for his first-round heroics. He was humble about his save on Steven Stamkos’ breakaway in the second period. It was not about him, but about the team.
The only question on which Crawford faltered was what it was like to be a two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender. He couldn’t explain it.
“It’s unbelievable feeling,” Crawford said. “It’s hard to describe. You can never describe it.”