Blackhawks

Corey Crawford’s outings giving Blackhawks confidence

Corey Crawford’s outings giving Blackhawks confidence

Corey Crawford kept his cool, even when he lost his stick.

The Blackhawks goaltender was part of a wild 30-second sequence early in the second period of Game 2, in which he lost and regained his stick, made five stops against the St. Louis Blues and drew a “Corey” chant from the United Center crowd.

“That was a crazy scramble,” he said following Game 3. “Just trying to find the puck in that instance.”

Crawford has found the puck in front of him more than behind him so far in this series, stopping 79 of the 85 shots he’s faced in the three games. His work in Game 2 gave him 46 career postseason victories, pushing him past Tony Esposito for the most in Blackhawks history. His work is also giving the Blackhawks playing in front of him peace of mind.

“Anytime you have a goalie like Corey in net, I think it gives our whole team confidence,” Duncan Keith said. “He made some big saves in the second period where we had some chances, and they came down and had a few high-quality chances. He made those saves to keep the game the way it was. When he's making those saves, it gives you confidence knowing – I don't want to take those extra chances because that's not what we do – that you can play with that confidence that he will be there to make a save when needed.”

There was some question as to whether or not Crawford would be ready for the postseason at all. Crawford suffered an upper-body injury in mid-March and was sidelined for more than three weeks. He played in the Blackhawks’ regular-season finale in Columbus. While that game had its ups and downs – Crawford said he was getting used to game speed again – getting that game in before the playoffs turned out to be helpful.

“I thought he practiced well going into the series, back-to-back games he did a great job being ready and doing what we had to do,” coach Joel Quenneville said after Crawford won Game 2. “He looked sharp, quick, handled the puck well, exactly what you want.”

As the regular season ended, Crawford said he’d be ready for the postseason. The first three games, he certainly has been.

“It always takes a little bit of time to get back in the routines and game shape after you’ve been out for a while. But Crow is, he’s a gamer and he likes to compete and that’s what it’s all about in the playoffs,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “He’s one of those guys that really enjoys playoff hockey and big moments. He always rises to the occasion, so I’m not too surprised, but it’s impressive to see how fast he’s come back.”

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.