The Blackhawks loss on Tuesday night marked the end of the 2019-20 season. It may have marked the end of one of the most unique careers in Chicago sports history.
Corey Crawford’s six-year, $36 million contract has officially expired. He will be an unrestricted free agent whenever free agency begins this fall. And, at 35, he doesn’t necessarily have to continue playing. He’s made more than $45 million during his playing career, has a family and a couple championship rings at home. His life and legacy are secured.
But let’s spend a minute talking about the legacy of Corey Crawford.
Crawford was a second round pick in the historic 2003 NHL Draft. He was the second goaltender selected that year; Marc-Andre Fleury went to Pittsburgh with the first overall pick. Crawford lasted until pick number 52.
After two more years with the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, Crawford moved to Norfolk (then the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate) for the 2005-06 season. On January 22, 2006, Crawford made his NHL debut in relief of Adam Munro. He stopped all seven shots he faced in relief that night.
It appeared Crawford would, eventually, be the man in net for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Eventually took four more years.
If we’re honest, it was a business decision that sent Crawford back to the AHL for the 2009-10 season; he outplayed Antti Niemi during the 2009 preseason. But Niemi’s name was engraved on the Cup and he is associated with the team that broke the nearly 50-year championship drought.
When Niemi bounced with everyone else in the summer of 2010, the easy assumption was that Crawford would get the net. And yet Stan Bowman went out and threw a bunch of money at veteran Marty Turco to split starts to begin the season.
In a season of turnover and turmoil after the Blackhawks saw more than half their roster depart and injuries hit many of the best players on the roster, Crawford forced himself into the top slot on the depth chart. He had four shutouts and a .917 save percentage in 57 regular season games.
Turco left after one unremarkable season and was replaced by Ray Emery. Emery was with the Hawks for two years; he and Crawford shared the William M. Jennings Trophy for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Crawford took his game to another level in the 2013 playoffs. He should have won the Conn Smythe that summer; even Patrick Kane has said as much. After a long, winding road to being an established goaltender in the NHL, Crawford was a champion.
Two years later, Crawford’s name was engraved on the Jennings Trophy alone. And his name was also engraved on the Stanley Cup for a second time.
In the second decade of the 21st century, only two goaltenders – Crawford and Jonathan Quick – won multiple championships. Fleury, the first overall pick in 2003, has three rings but Matt Murray was Pittsburgh’s primary goale in the 2016 postseason.
Only five goaltenders in the history of the NHL have won the Jennings Trophy more than twice: Martin Brodeur (five), Patrick Roy (five), Ed Belfour (four), Dominik Hasek (three) and Brian Hayward (three). Four of those five are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Only two goaltenders have won more games than Crawford (260) in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks: Tony Esposito (418) and Glenn Hall (276). Those two legends are both in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and their numbers have been retired by the organization.
What’s impressive is considering Crawford is only 16 wins behind Hall; Crawford has appeared in 130 fewer games than the iconic netminder.
Crawford’s 26 shutouts rank seventh in Blackhawks history.
Crawford’s .918 save percentage is the best for any goaltender who appeared in at least 100 games with the Blackhawks.
And yet Crawford is often referred to as the goaltender who benefitted from great teams in front of him. He was “lucky to be in Chicago.” His game had “obvious weak spots” (read: glove side) and he gave up too many soft goals.
Let me be absolutely clear: Corey Crawford is the most taken-for-granted athlete in Chicago sports over the last 20 years. Maybe ever.
After concussions put his career in question over the past couple years, he once again had to fight for his job. Robin Lehner was brought in to split the job with him – indeed, likely to be his replacement. And yet Crawford played well enough to win the job back. Again.
Crawford built a resume that’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. He’s been one of the greatest netminders to ever wear the Indian head sweater. And he had to take the long road to get there. Ed Belfour didn’t get much respect as he climbed the ladder and he took it out on everyone around him; Crawford got less respect than Rodney Dangerfield and simply went about his business.
It’s poetic in a way that it was Lehner, in another jersey, that potentially ended Crawford’s tenure in Chicago. Another veteran brought in to take his job away who lost to the steady Crawford.
We’ll find out in the coming weeks and months what the future holds for number 50, but it this is it we tip our cap to a player worthy of being legitimately referred to as a Blackhawks legend.