Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford intends to play somewhere next season but isn't sure he's ready to be a backup

Jimmy Greenfield, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Hockey

OTTAWA, Ontario -- By a stroke of scheduling luck, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton won't have to make what could have been a very difficult decision.

While it's hard to imagine Corey Crawford not starting when the Hawks come to his hometown of Montreal to face the Canadiens, the current situation is different than in years past.

Crawford is no longer the Hawks' starting goalie, and with the team desperate for points, it's not clear if he'll do more the rest of the season than spot Robin Lehner when the Hawks play on back-to-back nights.

That's where the luck of the schedule comes in. The Hawks face the Canadiens on Wednesday in the second of back-to-back road games, and Crawford is likely to take the net as he has each time they have played in Montreal since 2009. Lehner was slated to start Tuesday night against the Senators.

Despite being out with concussions for huge chunks of the last two seasons, Crawford hasn't missed a game in Montreal, where he always plays before a throng of family.

"I always get a little nervous there," Crawford said. "I was a big fan of that team when I was younger. Having all the family and friends and a lot of people watching from back home, it's a game that I enjoy and it's pretty special anytime I go there."

Crawford has had remarkable success in Montreal, allowing just eight goals in seven starts and going 5-0-2 with a .971 save percentage. But it's possible Wednesday's game could be his last there with the Hawks.

At 35, Crawford knows he's drawing close to the end of his career. He and Lehner are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season, and it's hard to see how the Hawks could afford to bring both of them back.

Crawford said Tuesday he plans to sign another contract and play somewhere next season. Where that will be, he isn't so sure, but he hopes it can be with the Hawks.

"We'll see what the situation is," Crawford said after the morning skate in Ottawa. "We haven't talked to (Hawks general manager Stan Bowman), really. I would still love to have a chance here to win another (Stanley) Cup. We have a really good young group of players, and guys get to the next level pretty quick, I find. Once you get over that learning curve, we could be competitive quickly.

"We'll see what management wants to do. I would love to be in Chicago and have another chance."


Crawford's contract situation might depend largely on what happens with Lehner, who is 6 1/2 years younger than Crawford and this season has a significantly better save percentage (.923 to .906).

Lehner said last week he would be happy to stay with the Hawks and is willing to sign a contract extension before free agency begins in July. But he also said he doesn't plan to give the Hawks or any possible suitors a discount.

With the Hawks also needing to re-sign restricted free agents Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik, and with Alex DeBrincat's new contract kicking in next season, they won't be able to spend $11 million on goaltending as they did this season.

Market value for Lehner is probably about $7 million per year. If he returns to the Hawks at that amount, it would require Crawford, who has a $6 million salary-cap hit, to take a sizable pay cut. That's something he'll probably have to accept whether he ends up with the Hawks or elsewhere.

While Crawford hasn't complained about his reduced role, it's not something he seems to have accepted. He said Tuesday he's not sure if he's ready to head into a season as a backup.

"We'll have to see what the situation is," he said. "I'm a pretty competitive guy, feel like I could still make a difference on a team, to make a run at a championship. That's where my head's at. Never really had a role of sitting on the bench and being part of that situation. So I don't know."

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