Let me start off this blog by saying that while I know I’m probably Corey Crawford’s biggest critic, I’m going to be completely rational here. So, yeah, that last goal in game 7 wasn’t Crawford’s fault since he couldn’t even see the puck. If anyone truly deserves blame there, it was Nick Leddy. However, there were a lot of goals in the 2014 playoffs that were Crawford’s fault. He needs to get better, plain-and-simple. Especially since he’s about to start a six-year, $36 million contract.
Bowman overpaid Crawford. Period. As much as I defended him while other fans were criticizing him for not making any big moves like trading for Ryan Kesler, I can’t defend Bowman on this one. And I don’t want to hear that Crawford’s not overpaid because he was great in the playoffs last year (which I’ll admit he was) and the market on goalies was going up last season. What Bowman should have done was make a firm offer. If Crawford says no, fine. He’s still under contract for one more year. Make him earn the big deal in the 2013-14 season. Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but the fact that Crawford’s cap hit with his new contract is the same as Ryan Miller’s, $200,000 higher than Jonathan Quick’s, and $1.5 million higher than Jaroslav Halak’s is kind of hard to swallow.
Toews and Kanes’ contracts are up after the 2014-15 season and Bowman has guaranteed that the Blackhawks will lock them up long-term. Toews and Kane asked for $12 million a year, but I’m guessing the number will end up around $11 million a year. In any case, those are two pretty big cap hits. Now, while the cap will likely continue to increase every year, it’s worth noting that the cap for 2014-15 ended up being about $2 million lower than expected and the Hawks are currently over it. It seems like a safe bet to me that Kris Versteeg will be gone before the season starts. The writing was on the wall once the Hawks signed Brad Richards. Also, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Hawks trade Nick Leddy. He wasn’t great this year and this would free up another $2.7 million and a spot on the NHL roster for Adam Clendening.
With this cap space, the Hawks should sign Martin Brodeur. Now, I know I’m biased, as Marty is my all-time favorite NHL player. But hear me out. If the Hawks can sign Brodeur for $2 million or less, he’d make a really good backup/insurance policy. I know this means the Hawks would be committing $8 million in salary to two goalies with question marks and keeping Raanta off the NHL roster, but this would give the Hawks a backup with experience, which, let’s be honest, they could have used in the playoffs. Also, this gives Raanta the chance to be the starter for a full season in America. Make these moves and re-evaluate the goalie situation next year. Ideally, with a new goalie coach and the chance to learn from the best to ever play the position, Corey Crawford makes the leap and becomes and elite goalie. Also, with a full season as a starter in the U.S. under his belt, it’s not out of the question that Raanta makes a big leap and proves himself ready to be an NHL starter. I was thrilled by what I saw from him when he was starting consistently when Crawford was hurt. During that stretch, Raanta had a .910 SV% and a 2.25 GAA. Those numbers aren’t far away from Crawford’s numbers (.917 SV%, 2.26 GAA). It’s also not out of the question to think that the Hawks may be able to sign Raanta to a long-term deal cheap next year.
Best-case scenario: Both Crawford and Raanta make big leaps. From there, they weigh Crawford’s value (skill for the price) vs. Raanta’s and a) trade one for them; Crawford to free up cap space or Raanta for a propect, or b) start Crawford, use Raanta as the backup and weigh both values again in 2016.
Worst-case scenario: Neither make the leap, and the Hawks have to consider trading Crawford for whatever they can get and pursuing a cheaper goalie. Raanta serves as the backup.
What will actually happen: Neither make huge leaps, but both get better. Do I see Crawford ever being an elite goalie? No. But I don’t think anyone will mind his cap hit too much if he improves his game, gives up fewer bad goals, and is good enough for the Hawks to win a couple more Cups and be a consistent championship contender throughout his time in Chicago.
Follow me on Twitter @KSchroeder2325.