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What does the future hold for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford?

John Dietz

Corey Crawford wasn't ready for the Blackhawks to go home Sunday night.

Wasn't ready for the season to end.

Wasn't ready for the inevitable questions about his future to come at him as often as those 49 Vegas shots did during the Hawks' 2-1 victory in Game 4.

So the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be did what he's done so often in the past, stealing a postseason game by swatting, deflecting, gloving and smothering 48 of those attempts.

With Game 5 being another do-or-die situation for Crawford and Co. on Tuesday night, this is a great time to ponder his future with the Blackhawks and in the NHL.

If he has one, that is.

Because let's be honest: No one should second-guess or begrudge Crawford if he elects to hang up his skates forever. The two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie has suffered two concussions over the past three seasons, contracted COVID-19 this summer, and has a wife and two young kids to think about.

That future is indeed bright.

If, on the other hand, Crawford wants to keep playing, he certainly reminded every general manager across the league that he still has what it takes to carry a team on his back when needed.

There are only so many teams looking for starting goaltenders, giving Crawford only so many landing places because he's not going anywhere to be a backup.

"Wherever it's going to be -- whether it's here or another team -- I'm not playing 30 games," he said as the trade deadline approached in February. "I don't think I'm as effective doing that. I feel like it's a waste of time."

The most logical place for Crawford to continue his career is in Chicago. After all, there's no other goalie on the roster or in the system who is ready to take over the No. 1 role.

But the Hawks are in a huge salary-cap pickle and will likely need to make at least a couple moves if they hope to extend an appetizing offer to their 36-year-old netminder.

GM Stan Bowman will be weighing Crawford's concussion history with his agent's contract demands.

Here was Bowman's response in February when I asked him if the concussions are a concern going forward: "If you look down on the ice, I would say most of these guys have had a concussion in their careers -- some of them this year -- and they're still playing. So there's no way to foretell what's going to happen to a guy's health.

"Right now, just happy that he's had a successful year. ... Up until (2017-18), he'd been a very healthy goalie, so it's not like he's been an injury-riddled guy. This year he's gotten through it.

"It's a factor. Is it a big factor? Not sure about that."

If Bowman feels it's worth the risk and the parties come to an agreement (perhaps on a one-year deal for $5 million?), then they would bring him back. If not, thank Crawford for an incredible run and move on.

One thing Bowman has always preached is he's not interested in tanking to get a better draft pick, meaning he's not going to leave the Hawks high and dry in net. He's trying to build a winning culture and does not want to send a message that losing is OK.

If Crawford's not the answer, then perhaps Bowman reaches out to Robin Lehner, who truly enjoyed his time in Chicago. Or perhaps he really likes the 6-foot-6, 206-pound Jacob Markstrom, who went 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average for Vancouver this season.

Or perhaps Bowman is willing to let Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia or Kevin Lankinen battle it out. (This seems extremely unlikely, however).

We'll find out soon enough.

In the meantime, appreciate what you saw between the pipes over the last decade: 260 regular-season victories and 52 more in the postseason that came thanks to a calm, cool approach that extended out from Crawford's blue paint and across the entire ice to all of his teammates.

 


Robin Lehner

Former goalie Lehner says Blackhawks didn't give him fair shot

Author: John Dietz

In Robin Lehner's first interview as a member of the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, the former Blackhawks goalie expressed frustrations with how he was utilized at times in Chicago.

He said he signed with the Hawks last off-season "to help them out" and because he was told he'd get "a fair chance to play."

Lehner, who did start 31 of the 62 games, told the press in Vegas that wasn't the case.

"I didn't play much in the beginning -- or the middle beginning -- of the season, even if I played really well and had a good camp," said Lehner, who started just two of the first six games as the Hawks started 2-3-1. "Eventually I took over and I think I won like nine out of 10 ... and we were (eventually) one point behind a playoff spot.

"Then all of a sudden I found myself on the bench for no reason. That was tough. Plus, (contract) negotiations had totally died out."

The 9-1-0 stretch Lehner is referring to came between December 15 and January 19. Corey Crawford started seven games during that time, going 3-4-0.

Lehner, who was traded to Vegas on Monday, then allowed 4 goals in a 4-3 loss to Florida on January 21 on the Hawks' last game before their off week.

The Hawks dropped five of six after the break, with Lehner getting just two starts. He lost them both -- a 2-1 setback against Boston and a 5-3 loss at Edmonton. Lehner then allowed 4 goals to Calgary during an 8-4 victory and 6 goals to the Rangers in a 6-3 loss.

Lehner went 16-10-5 with a .918 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average with the Hawks. The season before he was 25-13-5 with a .930 save percentage and 2.13 GAA average in 43 starts for the Islanders. 

"At the end of the day we're players playing for our lives and playing for contracts," Lehner said. "I felt for two years I've played really well and I still can't get something done (long term), and I'm playing well and I can't play. It hits your motivation part a little bit, and I've got to do a better job of letting that kind of go away.

"I'm in a new situation here and I'm just excited to be part of a playoff push and help out any way I can."


Ritchie Hockey Foundation

Family foundation builds college futures off lost son's passion for hockey

The Jason Ritchie Foundation has given $1.6 million to students who play hockey since 2009.
Author: Bobby Lewis

LUTZ, Fla — Kiley Robles chuckled as she watched her golf ball dribble down the fairway. Her friends all smiled as Robles shrugged her shoulders.

Golf isn’t her sport.

Robles is a freshman studying health sciences at the University of Vermont. She also plays on the club hockey team in college. Neither might have been possible without the generosity of a family foundation.

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“This thing started very, very small. We went from raising $22,000 in our first year and this year to raising $316,000,” said Bob Ritchie, co-founder of the Jason Ritchie Hockey Foundation.  “Cumulatively, since 2009, our little foundation has raised $1.6 million.”

The numbers are staggering for the decade-old foundation. In 2009, Bob and his wife, Donna, started the foundation after the death of their son.

“May 1, 2009,” Donna recalled, seated in front of a large banner bearing the foundation logo. “Jason was coming home from a hockey game. A single-car accident. We think he fell asleep.”

Jason Ritchie was 22 when he died. Now, an annual golf tournament established by the foundation draws so much money, that his passion for hockey is passed on in many ways.

“This is a cornerstone event,” Bob said from the back porch of the TPC Tampa Bay clubhouse, overlooking the 18th green. “It’s a legacy event for us. You see 40 sports legends come out here to donate their time and raise money. It really has become an anchor event for the foundation.”

The Ritchie Hockey Foundation aims to get kids interested in hockey or help them continue to play the game. It also establishes scholarships for hockey players to attend college. In ten years, the foundation has seen recipients go on to become pilots, a U.S. Marine and a female professional hockey player.

Dozens of professional athletes from across the NFL, MLB, and NHL gathered to play 18 holes in support of the Ritchie Hockey Foundation Friday morning.

“You know, it all goes back to hockey obviously and their story is a story that we want to be part of,” said former Tampa Bay Lightning captain and Stanley Cup champion Dave Andreychuk.

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He and another Lightning alumni, Brian Bradley, Adam Hall, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Jassen Cullimore, among others, were part of the hockey contingent who took part in the event. Past scholarship recipients played alongside Robles.

“I got to play with them last year,” said Cullimore, who played for the Lightning from 1997 to 2004. “I got to hear how important this is to them.”

The Ritchie Foundation has a partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Guide the Thunder” program, of which Cullimore serves as a coach. 

Thursday night, the foundation hosted a baseball skills clinic at the University of Tampa. On Saturday, it will offer a free hockey clinic for kids in Wesley Chapel.

The main focus is scholarships and helping kids get to college.

“It’s just such a powerful message that I think it’s easy to see why so many people have gravitated towards it,” said Hall.

Robles agrees.

“It helped my family financially and just to know that I am a part of the Richie family now is amazing,” she said. “They will do anything for you.”

It’s what Jason would have wanted.

“We hope we’re doing Jason proud, more importantly, allowing the next generation to succeed,” said his dad with a smile.


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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