When the Blackhawks signed Robin Lehner to a one-year deal on July 1, everyone’s immediate thought was: What does this mean for Corey Crawford and how will the dynamic work?
When healthy, we're talking about two Vezina Trophy-caliber goaltenders. And now they somehow have to share the crease without feeling like they're competing for the same job, even though they are.
Lehner has said from the beginning that he didn't sign with the Blackhawks to take anyone's job. He came to Chicago to win and has expressed excitement about working alongside Crawford every day.
"We've talked," Lehner said. "He's a great guy and a great goaltender. This year, it's a team that wants to make the playoffs again and we want to win, so you have to earn your starts and that's what it's all about."
Crawford spoke on Friday for the first time since the Lehner signing and he shared similar feelings.
"We practiced a couple times [together] before the camp started," Crawford said. "He's a pretty easygoing guy and he's a really good goaltender, obviously. That just helps our team. Some good competition between us and we'll push each other to be at our best, so it's a good situation for us."
In today's NHL, teams need two legit goaltenders because they want their starters fresh for the stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoffs and the only way to do that is to manage their workload during the regular season. The Blackhawks find themselves in a situation where they have one of the most formidable goaltending tandems in the league.
Crawford, when healthy, has typically received in between 55-58 starts per season throughout his NHL career. That's an ideal range. But if we see the split closer to 50/50 with Crawford and Lehner, that comes out to 41 starts each and, while both goalies would certainly be fresh all season, Crawford prefers having more reps because it helps him get into a rhythm.
"Personally, I feel better when I play more," Crawford admitted. "The game conditioning is there, little details. But I'm prepared to do whatever. Whenever he calls me to go in the net, I'll be there."
The decision is ultimately going to come down to Jeremy Colliton and the coaching staff to divide up the starts, but that's impossible to do before the season begins because things can change quickly. The hope is that Crawford and Lehner will make the decision tough on them because that would likely mean both of them are playing well enough to deserve the starter's net.
"It's hard to say before the season starts," Crawford said. "We don't know how it's going to play out. I'm sure there's going to be points where both guys are going to have hot streaks, so that's in the hands of our coach. Jeremy is going to have to decide who to go with and don't be afraid with just rolling with a guy if he's playing well. But really, it's up to him and our job is to try to be at our best and push each other."