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