There's a reason why Corey Crawford's absence in training camp 2.0 was a major storyline in Chicago. He is as valuable to the Blackhawks as anyone, which has been magnified over the last few years.
Since the start of the 2017-18 season, no goaltender with at least 35 starts has faced more shots from up close than Crawford with an average shot distance of 33.9 feet, according to Natural Stat Trick. And yet his goals saved above average of 20.1 ranks 13th among the 64 netminders.
There were times where Crawford looked rusty this postseason. There were also times where he looked "as good as ever," like in Game 4 against Vegas when he stopped 48 of 49 shots for a save percentage of .980.
Which brings us to an uncomfortable question: Has No. 50 played his last game in a Blackhawks sweater?
Crawford, 35, is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and it’s difficult to see the Blackhawks not wanting to bring him back on a short-term deal. But the financial outlook has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the upper limit of the salary cap to stay flat for the next two seasons.
Despite that, it sounds like re-signing Crawford is a priority for the Blackhawks. According to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, GM Stan Bowman intends on reaching out to Crawford’s camp soon to get a feel for things.
It will ultimately depend on what Crawford wants. The Blackhawks can’t afford to give him the same average annual value of $6 million because they have a projected $7.3 million in cap space, as of Thursday, and still have pending restricted free agents Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome due new contracts.
That means Crawford must take a rather significant paycut to remain with the Blackhawks or look to finish his career elsewhere. The challenge is, there might not be many opportunities to be the outright starter outside of Chicago and Crawford is on record saying he doesn’t want to be a backup to end his career.
There's no doubt Crawford can still be an everyday starter in the NHL. He showed as much down the stretch of the regular season, where he was one of the best goaltenders from Jan. 1 and on.
The Blackhawks are perfect for Crawford and Crawford is perfect for the Blackhawks. It's really been a perfect marriage since he became the full-time starter in 2010-11, highlighted by a pair of Stanley Cups. And it would be the perfect final chapter if the two sides stayed together till the end.