Blackhawks

Can Blackhawks count on Corey Crawford returning to top form?

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USA TODAY

Can Blackhawks count on Corey Crawford returning to top form?

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."

Report: Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Report: Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Sunday night, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL and NHLPA have begun tossing around ideas for where the league could finish potential regular season or playoff games, if the COVID-19 pause were lifted.

The NHL pause went into effect on March 12 due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.

Friedman reported one location discussed was North Dakota. 

"Several sites would be necessary, but Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., makes sense," he wrote. "Host of the 2005 World Junior Championships, the 2016 World Under-18s and the NCAA’s Fighting Hawks, it is an impressive facility that is definitely more suitable than many other available non-NHL options in the United States."

The NHL and NHLPA are expected to discuss other locations this week per Friedman. 

"The league and players must agree on any return-to-play scenarios," he added. "The players are very concerned about the potential of 35 per cent escrow on future paycheques, and whether or not the NHL will consider allowing that to be paid over multiple years. (CBA discussions are believed to be taking place.)"

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How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

On March 4, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told general managers that the projected salary cap for the 2020-21 season is expected to be in the range of $84 million and $88.2 million. That's roughly a $2.5 million to $6.7 million increase after it went up only $2 million last season.

But eight days later, the NHL put its season on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's unclear if or when hockey will even resume at this point. Because of the uncertainty and the risk of the league potentially losing $1 billion in hockey-related revenue, there's legitimate concern about what the ceiling could look like after we get through this, and not just for next season.

Could the NHL's salary cap stay the same? Might it even go down to help ease the escrow pain for players? Anything is possible, but it would require both the NHL and NHLPA to come to an agreement on what that artificial number could look like.

If the salary cap remains flat, the Blackhawks would be one of the many teams that would find themselves in an extremely tough position. And they better start preparing for that scenario.

As of right now, the Blackhawks' projected cap hit for next season is $74.1 million, according to Cap Friendly. That number factors in the three players on long-term injured reserve (Calvin de Haan, Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw) but also includes the current players on the roster, which comes out to 26 total, so cuts obviously must be made to get down to the maximum of 23.

But what that number doesn't include is the potential performance bonus overages and the fact the Blackhawks don't have a goaltender signed beyond this season other than Collin Delia, which doesn't leave much room for free agent signings elsewhere. Heck, taking care of their own guys is going to be a major challenge.

The Blackhawks have nine pending restricted free agents, which most notably includes Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. Corey Crawford is their highest-profile unrestricted free agent. Those are four key pieces the Blackhawks must try to squeeze in under the cap if the priority is to bring all of them back, and — loosely projecting — gives them around $9-10 million to do so.

You have to wonder if it makes more sense for everyone involved to agree on one-year deals and revisit things the following year after more clarity is provided on the NHL's financial situation, especially with Seattle preparing for league entry and the U.S. television deal set to expire after the 2021-22 season.

For now, the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL are waiting to see what the next steps are. But the financial ramifications will be significant, and it's something every team must now navigate through. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.