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Rozner: Why Hawks new goalie is more than an expensive insurance policy

Another lob wedge was preparing to come up short late Monday afternoon when the phone began to buzz.

The surprise isn't that the short game is dreadful, not given the terrible weather and course conditions the last few months. No need to blame operator error, not with excuses available and plentiful.

No, the surprise was that it didn't storm for a day, if you'll forgive the usual digression.

Perhaps equally shocking was the reason for all the alerts, emails and texts on what was looking like a quiet afternoon locally on the first day of NHL free agency.

The Blackhawks had signed a Vezina-worthy goaltender for one season and $5 million, the addition of Robin Lehner about as unexpected as they come.

With Corey Crawford entering the final year of his deal, that's $11 million in goal for the 2019-20 season.

Did not see that coming.

The Hawks won't have the most expensive net in the league next year, not with Carey Price at $10.5 million in Montreal and Sergei Bobrovsky signing with Florida for an extraordinary $10 million annually.

And when you think about it today, Crawford is cheap as a two-time Cup champ and $6 million, called expensive a few years ago and now a bargain -- relative to the league -- if Crawford were healthy and playing 60 games.

Still, it's a lot of cash invested in that spot, albeit the most important spot on the ice.

So as the foursome digested the news -- and beverages of various sorts -- we pondered the possibilities, none bigger than this:

What do the Hawks know about Crawford that they're not telling us?

If they know anything, they're not saying, but even if they don't it's a wise move because the last two years are a reminder that Crawford isn't likely to make it through a season, in which case they better have a legit option in net so they don't flush another season.

Furthermore, it's only a one-year deal on Lehner so it doesn't cause a future cap squeeze.

Should they have used that available cap space to further improve outside the goal? That's a fair question.

The answer is they probably would have had they found a short-term deal for a player they believed was better than what they have.

There also has to be mutual interest, and most of the older veteran scorers on cheaper and shorter deals went to teams they believe are more certain of returning to the postseason.

"We're in a good position with the cap," said GM Stan Bowman. "We have a pretty full roster now. Whether we start camp (this way) or tweak a few things, we've come a long way in the last month.

"We're a much, much better team and we're well positioned to have a good season. As far as money spent on goal, it's the most important position in the game.

"Looking back the last few years, it's been hard to weather the storm when injuries are part of the game.

"I feel comfortable going into next season, whether Corey Crawford's in net or Robin Lehner's in net. We have two high-end goaltenders, we've improved our defense and made changes up front.

"I'm very optimistic about where we're headed."

Best case is Crawford -- who should have won the Conn Smythe twice -- stays healthy and plays like he's capable. If that's the case, you have to like the Hawks' chances of getting back to the tournament.

If he's not the Crawford of old and is merely an old Crawford, then they have a No. 1 ready to go and that also gives them a real chance to have a good season.

It's more than an expensive insurance policy. It tells you there's real fear within the Hawks' front office that Crawford won't survive another season.

In that regard, Lehner makes plenty of sense on a one-year deal, regardless of what the Hawks know -- and might not be telling us.


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