The Blackhawks have repeatedly stated that they expect Corey Crawford to be 100 percent healthy and ready to go by training camp after missing the final 47 games of this season with an upper-body injury.
That's Step 1.
Step 2 is projecting whether or not he can return to an elite level.
It's a fair question to wonder and an even greater challenge to figure out, because the Blackhawks saw down the stretch how important he is to their team.
"None of us can predict the future, so I'm not going to get into the, 'How do I know' anything," general manager Stan Bowman said. "We have expectations that he's going to be the same goalie that he's been. I think if you look back at the last probably three to four seasons, Corey's been getting better every year. You look back at where he was in 2013 and I think there's no way we win the Stanley Cup that year or in 2015 [without him]."
Crawford was 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage in 28 appearances before going down. J-F Berube, Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass and Collin Delia combined to go 17-30-8 with a .902 save percentage in Crawford's absence. The drop-off was noticeable, especially when it came to quality scoring chances allowed.
Since 2012-13, Crawford has the third-best high-danger save percentage (81.48) at 5-on-5 among goaltenders who have appeared in at least 250 games over that span, according to corsica.hockey. Only Sergei Bobrovsky (83.18) and Carey Price (82.63) are above him.
That's great company.
"Stan mentioned the importance of him and what he has been to our team and our organization," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You can just see from the way things went this year how valuable he really is. That stuff will all be discussed as we're going forward here.
"He's on the right track. He's close to being ready to go. Several more months now to prepare for the season. Knowing that ingredient to our team is certainly a big piece to our success and our team as well. But we look forward to that being in place and Crow ready to be a part of it."
Another factor to consider is that Crawford will turn 34 in the middle of next season. Clearly, he's not getting any younger. Nobody is.
But goaltenders tend to age well and recent history supports that. Look no further than some of the current active netminders.
Henrik Lundqvist, 36, had a .915 save percentage in his 13th season, which wasn't far off from his career average of .920 despite being a part of a New York Rangers team that finished with the eighth-worst record.
Pekka Rinne, 35, will likely win his first Vezina Trophy for top goaltender after posting a 42-13-4 record with a 2.31 goals against average, .927 save percentage and eight shutouts in his 12th year.
Marc-Andre Fleury is 33, but he's got lots of mileage on his body having played in more than 700 career regular-season games and 116 postseason contests and counting, yet still had a career-high .927 save percentage in his 14th season.
And then there's 39-year-old Roberto Luongo, who already announced he'll be back for a 19th season after recording a .929 save percentage, his highest since 2003-04 — albeit in only 35 games because of an injury.
Age shouldn't be a concern for Crawford, who's played in only 409 regular-season games and 87 in the playoffs. There's still a lot of gas left in his tank
But can he get back to being one of the best goalies in the league? If — and it's a big if — his health doesn't get in the way of it, there's no reason not to believe he can't.
"He just seems to keep getting better every year to where you can see his value to our team right now," Bowman said. "So I would expect his performance to be certainly where he was last year, for sure. I don't think there's any reason to doubt that. He's got a lot of confidence. That last couple of seasons he's played a bigger role on our team and we're looking for that next year. We're hopeful that's the case."