Corey Crawford couldn’t have had a better year.
The Chicago Blackhawks goaltender silenced his critics with a strong season, culminating in his first Stanley Cup championship. He helped the team win the William Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed in the regular season. He was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp in late August and today he’s having his day with the Cup in his hometown of Chateauguay, outside of Montreal.
Well, the year – and the day – just got better.
Crawford signed a six-year contract with the Blackhawks this morning, hours before enjoying his day with the Cup. Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports reported the extension is worth $36 million. Crawford is entering the final season of his current deal, which will pay him $2.5 million in 2013-14. Crawford, 28, couldn’t have pictured the past year, or this day, going much better.
“Obviously being able to get a chance to bring the Cup back home and all the people I grew up with and played hockey with, it was pretty special to start off with. To add this on top, it’s amazing,” Crawford said via conference call. “I want to be in Chicago for my whole career, and this is amazing to be able to do this and get this deal done.”
[More: Corey Crawford: Where's the Cup?]
General manager Stan Bowman said it was important to sew up Crawford. Bowman said that, as difficult as the decision was to let Antti Niemi walk after the 2010 Cup run, the organization saw Crawford as the heir apparent to the goaltending spot.
“He's grown up with our organization and he’s earned the ultimate with our group,” Bowman said of Crawford, who the Blackhawks drafted in 2003. “It was never a question in our mind that we want to commit to him. It’s the most important position we have. We have a lot of faith in his ability. He’s a young goalie, and he’s certainly worked hard to get here.”
Crawford entered the 2012-13 season with plenty of pressure. Coming off a tough sophomore season, Crawford needed to prove he could take the No. 1 goaltending spot and hold onto it. He did that, going 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He upped his performance in the postseason, when he amassed a 1.84 GAA and was a viable candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
But that pressure won’t be going away anytime soon. Goaltenders are hockey’s version of quarterbacks, the ones who hear the criticism when the team loses and get of the credit (well, some of the time) when the team wins. And Crawford will certainly be feeling it again, especially with this contract. He’s right there with forward Bryan Bickell as a guy who got a big raise after a big regular- and postseason, and now is expected to match those contract numbers with on-ice performance. But even if others heap extra pressure on Crawford, Crawford won’t be doing the same.
“I don’t think (the mindset) changes at all. Every year the goal is to win. It was fun to win last year and have a fun summer with (the Cup) and obviously have my Cup day today and do all that. But at one point you shut it off and start all over again,” Crawford said. “Obviously (the contract) is a reward for the hard work. It’s more the confidence 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 more pressure on myself. I don’t want to add extra to what it means.”
[More: Blackhawks announce TV schedule]
Crawford’s new contract kicks in during the 2014-15 season. It’s uncertain what the salary cap will be that season, when stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be in the final year of their respective deals. The Blackhawks can’t talk/sign extensions with them until July 1 of next year. Still, the question is, will there be enough cash? There’s no doubt the cap will go up, but how much? Bowman said that will play itself out.
“The cap is something you have to certainly plan for and think about as an organization, but that’s not the focus right now. The reality is, we need to have a top-notch goaltender in our organization and we have it with Corey,” Bowman said. “There are a lot changes from year to year. We don’t have all the knowledge of where the cap will be in two years but we know we’ll have a great goaltender. That’s why it’s an easy decision for us.”
What happens over the next season or two, cap-wise, will play out. Right now, Bowman is focused on getting the 2013-14 Blackhawks in order. And Crawford is focused on enjoying, for at least a few more days, everything that’s happened over this past season.
“It’s just getting better and better,” he said. “I’m on a bit of a high right now; hopefully I don’t come down from it. It’s just been amazing. I said it before: at one point, I have to shut it all off and go back to work. I’m looking forward to that, too.”