Hawk Talk: Team looking to lock up Crawford

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Hawk Talk: Team looking to lock up Crawford

Thursday, March 24, 2011
Posted: 5:18 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

While the Blackhawks continue proceeding down the stretch for now without Patrick Sharp, theyre already taking steps to make Corey part of their long-term core.

In a sitdown interview with Comcast SportsNet Thursday (part of which will air Thursday on SportsNet Central and Saturday on Chevy Blackhawks Pregame Live), Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman says the process has begun in hopes of locking up rookie goaltender Corey Crawford before he becomes a restricted free agent following this season.

Weve reached out and were gonna try to do something here, Bowman said in the United Centers Harris Club. The timing is delicate and you dont want it to become a distraction but we certainly have an interest in trying to get something done. I think hes performed very well for us this year. Looking back from where hes come not only having a foothold in the NHL at the beginning, when he started a handful of games, but watching his progression as hes gotten more responsibility, hes risen to the challenge. Thats what you look for in goaltenders. When they get the increased workload, can they handle it? Hes kind of unflappable and doesnt get rattled by much. I think thats a strength of his. Hes obviously talented. Hes got the physical capabilities, but the mental side is important as well, and hes been rock-solid for us.

Bowman will have more salary cap flexibility to use with Crawford this off-season, compared to last year, when some tough financial decisions led to Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi becoming a free agent. He eventually signed with San Jose, where he recently inked a four-year contract extension.

As for Sharp, through the first few days of rehab on whats believed to be a left knee injury, Bowman says the two- to three-week estimate for his return hasnt changed.

Timetables the same. I cant say hes progressing any differently than expected. The good news is he was through this a couple of years ago and had a similar kind of injury late in the year, as well (when Sharp was sidelined a month and missed 16 games), so he knows how to progress, and the rehab steps. Hes upbeat. I talked with him the other day and hes real optimistic and feels pretty good already, but it shouldnt be any different than we first planned.

Sharps already part of the core (though hes a candidate for unrestricted free agency following next season), and Crawford could be added to it next, but Bowman credits the existing stars on the roster whove led the team through a 20-game stretch in which theyve gone 13-3-4. That includes a brief stretch in which head coach Joel Quenneville was benched by an ulcer.

Theyve been through it before. They know how to handle pressure and perform under pressure, the G.M. explained, referring to the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Sharp. Thats what makes them so great, and I think thats what separates a good player from a great player. Its being able to play under difficult situations, and maybe when you are a bit short-handed, those guys pick up a little more of the responsibility. We were looking for that, and its been nice to see that happen with the younger players finding their roles as well, and thats helped us get on this roll and accumulate some good streaks.

I dont think motivation was an issue early on. We just had a lot of things happening. We had a lot of new faces, more so than most teams players that werent necessarily new to the organization but hadnt been here before. So that first month, six weeks, we were trying to figure out where these guys fit. There were a lot of games early on. Everyone was up for playing against us, so we had to be on top of our game. Before we knew it, wed dug ourselves a hole, and weve been playing catch-up for a long time. It wasnt so much motivation as it was getting all the new faces roles ironed out with their comfort level. Unfortunately, it takes time.

Among the new faces whove helped the ones whove been around awhile are this seasons blue-line additions. With crunch-time having arrived, Quennevilles reunited Keith and Seabrook as his shutdown pair. Making that decision easier has been the quality depth provided by Nick Leddy and Chris Campoli. Bowman acquired Leddy a couple of weeks prior to last years trade deadline, and loves the 19-year-olds composure since hes been back from a stint at Rockford, then the World Junior Championships.

He likes to make plays (instead of) just banging the puck off the boards and off the glass, and thats complimented our skill players and if you talk to some of them Toews and Kane they like playing with him because theyre going to get the puck and not have to chase it all night long. Now hes a much more composed and confident player than he was.

As for this years Deadline Day pickup, Campoli:

Its almost like since Day 1, hes fit right in here and like he was with us all year. Its a testament to his ability and the style of hockey we play. Its a good match with how he likes to hold onto the puck. Those are things we were hoping would happen when we were considering different players to acquire (at the trade deadline), but he fit the bill best in terms of his style of play.

The Blackhawks will accept just fighting off enough of the other Western Conference contenders and getting into the playoffs to defend their Cup. After that, the higher seed, the better. But no matter what, it seems theres a growing sentiment among national and Canadian media to see a first-round matchup between the Hawks and Vancouver, following two second-round knockouts of the Nucks the past two years.

Well play anybody at this point, Bowman responded when asked if hes fine with that possibility. The way the standings are and because the West is so competitive, I think any team can beat any other team in the first round. We saw last year I think the first round was probably the most challenging round you face Looking back at the Nashville series, we were really struggling there. It was a miraculous Game Five comeback there, and if not for that you dont know how that playoff round goes.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

What we all expected to happen did happen on Friday night when the Blackhawks traded Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes.

One way or another, be it via trade or just going to unrestricted free agency on July 1, Darling was headed elsewhere. He’s earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goaltender, it wasn’t going to happen here, and now he’ll get that chance.

But this isn’t about where Darling’s career takes him from this point. This is about the Blackhawks and where they go from here. They’ve been in the enviable position of having some stellar backup goaltenders the past few seasons, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Darling. So as this offseason continues, finding another one becomes top priority.

A few days ago Pat Boyle and I discussed a few topics on the HawksTalk Podcast, including what we considered to be on general manager Stan Bowman’s to-do list this summer. Getting a reliable backup goaltender has to be on there because the Blackhawks have shown over the past few seasons that having that great 1-2 punch in net has proven very successful.

Let’s go back to the 2013 offseason. In the summer of 2013 the Blackhawks signed two goaltenders. One was Nikolai Khabibulin, the other Raanta. We all remember how that went. Khabibulin, another former Blackhawks player brought in on the hopes that he had something left, didn’t. He started four games — two of which Corey Crawford came in and finished — suffered an injury in mid November and never played another game for the Blackhawks. Then on Dec. 8, Crawford, playing in his 27th game of the Blackhawks’ first 32 games of that season, got hurt. Enter Raanta, who went on a tear through December, going 8-1-3. That season highlights the need for reliable depth at that position more than any in recent memory.

You’re familiar with the other examples, too. Emery was outstanding when he had to be in the lockout-shortened 2013 regular season — please see that 45-stop outing vs. Calgary — and he and Crawford earned the William M. Jennings Trophy that year. Darling showed how dependable he could be several times the past few seasons, from his work in the 2015 first-round series against the Nashville Predators to his record (6-3-1) when Crawford was out with appendicitis through the first three weeks of last December.

That depth at goaltending has been especially critical the past two seasons. How many “goalie wins” did the Blackhawks have through the 2015-16 season, when they struggled to get consistent line combinations past their second one? How many did they have at the start of this past season before they did get that four-line rotation in February?

Crawford has played between 55 and 59 games in each full regular season dating back to 2010-11. Injuries happen. Slumps happen. Being overworked happens. Having a backup on which you can rely is something every team would love to have and something the Blackhawks have had recently, and they’ve benefitted from it.

It’s easy for us to sit here and say the Blackhawks need to do this. Actually finding that guy is an entirely different matter. But the Blackhawks have done it well lately, and despite the team’s quick exit this spring, there are still plenty of reasons for a would-be backup goaltender to come to Chicago.

Darling was the latest to embrace the backup goaltending role in his time here. His moving on was inevitable. Now the Blackhawks need to find the next guy who can keep their 1-2 punch in net going.

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Chicago will always be home for Scott Darling. Literally.

He's a Lemont native who grew up rooting for the Blackhawks, signed with the franchise in 2014 and reignited his career by winning over the backup job, and enjoyed the highest level of success by becoming the first local kid to win a Stanley Cup in Chicago.

But as he said at the end of the season, Darling has paid his dues as a backup in the NHL and is ready for the next step of being a No. 1 goaltender.

The Blackhawks gave him that opportunity Friday, shipping his negotiating rights to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick in 2017.

And, assuming a long-term extension gets done, the fit couldn't be better for both Darling and Carolina.

The Hurricanes play such a structured game under Bill Peters, who is arguably the most underrated coach in the league. He served as the head coach for the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs for three seasons from 2008-11, and was also part of Mike Babcock's coaching staff in Detroit for three years after that. He comes from a solid coaching branch. 

Peters preaches puck possession and team defense, and both categories have excelled during his tenure in Carolina.

Why is this good news for Darling? Because both of those areas have been vital in all three of the Blackhawks' championship runs this decade, meaning there won't be much of an adjustment schematically.

Over the last three seasons combined, the Hurricanes have been the sixth-best possession team in the league (controlling 51.7 percent of the even-strength shot attempts), have allowed the second-fewest shots on goal per game (27.7) and own the second-ranked penalty kill unit (84.4 percent success rate). 

Defense and dictating the pace of play has never been a problem for the Hurricanes; it's the goaltending that's been a sore thumb for a long time, and they've finally addressed it.

In the last three seasons, Carolina has finished 28th, 29th and 29th in even-strength team save percentage at 90.9 (2015), 91.5 (2016) and 91.2 (2017). This past regular season, only two goaltenders — Craig Anderson (94.0) and Vezina Trophy-favorite Sergei Bobrovsky (93.9) — who appeared in at least 30 games had a better 5-on-5 save percentage than Darling, who recorded a 93.7 percentage.

He is a significant upgrade from Eddie Lack ($2.75 million cap hit) and Cam Ward ($3.3 million), both of whom are under contract through 2017-18. (That's a situation Carolina GM Ron Francis will have to sort out as the expansion draft approaches, but there's no doubt Darling will head into training camp as the clear-cut starter).

There's reason to be excited about the Hurricanes' long-term vision and growth on the back end, too. They were the third-youngest team last year, and their blue line group is led by 25-year-old All-Star Justin Faulk and 20-year-old Noah Hanifin, the club's No. 5 overall draft pick in 2015.

The Hurricanes are right there. They're ready to take off after missing out on the postseason for eight consecutive years, in large part because they haven't gotten the goaltending needed to consistently win games.

With the addition of Darling, they hope to have finally found that missing piece to the puzzle.