One day before 2020 NHL free agency, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman dropped significant news by announcing goaltender Corey Crawford would not be back with the team next season. The two-time Stanley Cup champion was informed of the organization's decision on Thursday.
And immediately, the city of Chicago wondered out loud: Why? Why aren't the Blackhawks bringing back a goaltender who was among the NHL's best down the stretch? Who is one of four active goaltenders with multiple Stanley Cups? Who showed he can still handle No. 1 duties and play at a high level?
Was it because the two sides weren’t seeing eye to eye on an extension? The fact the Blackhawks are in a salary cap crunch and still have players like Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome to re-sign? Or was it because the Blackhawks simply want to go in a different direction?
Here’s what Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman had to say when asked directly:
“I would say it’s more the direction we’re heading more than anything,” Bowman said. “It wasn’t like it was a contentious discussion. We spent a lot of time talking about what the right direction was for us moving forward, and I think, not just on our team, but you’re going to see a lot of different things in the NHL this offseason, relative to other years. There’s an impact league-wide and there is, maybe not every team, but a lot of teams are focusing on looking for young players who can take that next step and play a bigger role. That’s really more the direction that we’re headed more than it was anything besides that."
It would be extremely difficult to see the Blackhawks going into the 2020-21 season with unproven goaltenders like Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen as their tandem, one year after having arguably the best duo in Crawford and Robin Lehner. They reportedly dug around on Darcy Kuemper and Matt Murray the past few weeks, which shows they're focused on shoring up that position both in the short and long term.
But the Blackhawks are prepared for a youth movement in goal one way or another.
"We've got a couple young goalies in Lankinen and Delia who we haven't given a real big opportunity to," Bowman said. "The NHL is relying more and more on young players and we're going to embrace that moving forward. We saw some really bright spots, especially in the playoffs. You saw the way that Kirby [Dach] took that next step. We think he's just scratching the surface.
"We continue to give bigger opportunities to younger players moving forward and that's something that's important to us. We've spent a lot of time deciding on that and we think that's the right move for us."