Crawford Potentially Out for Blackhawks: Deemed Unfit to Play as Training Camp Opens
NHL teams began their training camps yesterday as the start of Phase 3 of their return to play initiative got underway for the 24 teams heading to hub cities for the expanded playoff field. While there are extra players for all the teams right now, it’s going to be interesting to see who ends up making the proverbial cut and who is left on the outside looking in at this point. Teams head to their respective hub cities at the end of next week and will have an exhibition game before getting to Phase 4 of the restart with actual games beginning on August 1.
The Chicago Blackhawks got into the postseason thanks to the expanded field as they were 12th in the Western Conference standings. Chicago is set to square off with the fifth-seeded Oilers in the best-of-five qualifying round of the postseason but it looks like they could be facing a major issue as one of their key personnel was missing when the team took the ice yesterday in the Windy City.
Corey Crawford has been the backbone for the Blackhawks in net over the last decade. He was the starting goaltender when the team won the Stanley Cup in 2012-13 and 2014-15 though he has dealt with injury issues in the last couple of seasons. Crawford has gone 260-162-53 with a 2.45 GAA, 26 shutouts and a .918 save percentage in 488 career regular season games, 473 of which are starts. In the playoffs, he’s been between the pipes 87 times, starting 85 of those contests. Crawford has posted a 48-37 mark with a 2.28 GAA, five shutouts and a .919 save percentage. To say he’s been the rock Chicago has counted on would probably be an understatement.
Coach Jeremy Colliton cast some doubt on whether Crawford will be a rock this postseason as he stated that the goaltender was unfit to play or participate, the lexicon the league has mandated to use for players that are out of the mix during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no timetable for when, or if, he may return to action. Colliton admitted that it was a fluid situation with a lot of uncertainty as he said: "At the end, we're going to have to make a decision, but we want those guys to make it as difficult as possible.”
Those guys would be the other four goaltenders that are part of the training camp roster for Chicago. Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tomkins are the other netminders that are part of the mix for the Blackhawks. While Crawford has plenty of experience, the quartet of remaining goaltenders for the Blackhawks have combined for 84 regular season appearances and no playoff outings in their careers. Colliton said that Delia, Tomkins and Subban will rotate with the actual roster players in a battle to get the starting role while Lankinen likely will stick with the taxi squad guys since he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery in March. Based on what was said during the conversation with the media, it seems that the Blackhawks aren’t expecting any kind of speedy return for Crawford.
During the regular season, Crawford was 16-20-1 with a 2.77 GAA, one shutout and a .917 save percentage over 40 games, 39 starts, this year. The Blackhawks saw the net manned by the combination of Crawford and Robin Lehner for all but 70 seconds this season. Lehner was dealt to Vegas in late February for Subban, who played those 70 seconds on March 3 while Crawford received medical attention in his lone appearance with the Blackhawks after the trade. Subban was 9-7-3 with a 3.17 GAA, a .890 save percentage and no shutouts in 20 appearances, 19 starts, this season. In his career, he is 30-23-7 with a 2.97 GAA, a .899 save percentage and one shutout in 66 career NHL appearances, 60 starts.
If Crawford can’t go, which is seemingly likely given the lack of confidence expressed by Colliton and general manager Stan Bowman, Chicago could be in serious trouble. Edmonton has a dangerous 1-2 punch offensively in the combination of Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. The Oilers are going to be in their home arena and are likely to be at close to full strength. Without a goaltender with any proven track record is going to be problematic for Chicago at this stage. Could someone step up and help the Blackhawks pull an upset in the postseason? Sure, but is it likely? Don’t count on it as experience is critical in the postseason and without Crawford, the Blackhawks don’t have it in net.