InGoal Update: Chicago looking to lock up Calder candidate Crawford
Chicago starter Corey Crawford will try and strengthen his case to be named the NHL’s top rookie when he goes for his 30th win of his first full season against Anaheim on Saturday, getting the nod in another big game with major playoff implications.
Crawford’s case to continue as the top option in Chicago’s crease for this season and beyond is already well established, which is why it wasn’t overly surprising to hear a report Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman was trying to sign his new No.1 to a contract extension.
Bowman told Chris Boden of Comcast SportsNet Chicago that the process has already started, despite the fact the playoffs are less than three weeks away:
“We’ve reached out and we’re gonna try to do something here,” Bowman told CSN Chicago. “The timing is delicate and you don’t want it to become a distraction but we certainly have an interest in trying to get something done. I think he’s performed very well for us this year. Looking back from where he’s come – not only having a foothold in the NHL at the beginning, when he started a handful of games, but watching his progression as he’s gotten more responsibility, he’s risen to the challenge.
That’s what you look for in goaltenders. When they get the increased workload, can they handle it? He’s kind of unflappable and doesn’t get rattled by much. I think that’s a strength of his. He’s obviously talented. He’s got the physical capabilities, but the mental side is important as well, and he’s been rock-solid for us.”
Again, it’s hardly surprising Chicago is looking to lock up Crawford sooner rather than later, especially after an arbitration award of $2.75 million forced them to walk away from Antti Niemi just a few months after he guided them to a Stanley Cup last summer. The purse strings should be looser this time around after a salary cap purge that went well beyond Niemi, though the ability to actually get Crawford’s autograph on an extension could still depend on where the first-year stopper’s agent views comparable goalies.
Will Crawford’s camp be looking for something like the four-year, $15.2-million deal Niemi recently signed in San Jose? Or do they accept something closer to the $4.5-million, two-year deal signed in Detroit by Jimmy Howard, who like Crawford spent years in the AHL waiting for his opportunity before bursting onto the scene and finishing second in NHL Rookie of the Year voting last season?
Crawford, 26, is making $850,000 this season ($800,000 salary cap hit) and like Niemi last summer will become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights on July 1. Crawford admitted to the Chicago Daily Herald the contract is on his mind, which is interesting since was 1-2-2 before steadying things with consecutive wins, including a 23-save shutout of Florida on Wednesday:
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s gone through my head quite a bit this year,” said Crawford. “At times it’s been hard to forget about, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of letting it go and just worrying about hockey. This is a really fun place to play hockey and I don’t know what they’re thinking about in terms of a contract, but we’ll talk about that when it’s time. Right now our focus is just on hockey and worrying about getting into the playoffs.”
With another win, Crawford becomes just the second Blackhawks goalie in 15 years to post 30 victories, and the first since Jocelyn Thibault in 2001-02. More importantly, he told the Daily Herald, he is a better goalie since the season started:
“It’s the experience of playing games and learning the other teams and other players, and learning about myself, too,” Crawford said. “There are a lot of ups and downs and to find out how you can adjust to it when you get some downs and to be able to recover quick, it’s all a learning process. It’s a little harder on you when you lose games, but you have to shrug it off and look at the things you did wrong or could have done a little better and just move on and be focused and ready for the next game.
“That’s the thing about this league, the games are so close together that you have to get rid of the negative thoughts as quickly as possible and move on and have your best game the next time out.”
Capitals crease decision looms as Varlamov considers leaving
Just because sizzling hot rookie Braden Holtby was sent back to the American Hockey League doesn’t mean the Washington Capitals have settled their goaltending situation heading into the playoffs. It just means the choice has been narrowed to fellow 22-year-old ‘tenders Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Even then the Capitals are in no rush to make a decision.
In fact, head coach Bruce Boudreau told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post the answer may be using both during the postseason:
“I think if you look at the way the season and their careers have gone, that neither one has played 20 games in a row [in the NHL], you’re probably looking more at winning by committee than anything else,” Boudreau, who was quick to replace Jose Theodore the last two playoffs, told The Post. “If one gets extremely hot, you’re not going to take him out of the lineup. But in our situation here, we’ve seen, I think, [six] in a row the maximum that either one has played all year.”
As for how long Varlamov, who has lost the crease to injuries several times this season, is willing to be part of that back-and-forth rotation, his agent has indicated the impending restricted free agent is considering offers from the Kontinental Hockey League in his native Russia for next season, according to a twitter report from regular Puck Daddy writer Dmitry Chesnokov. The Capitals still have Neuvirth and the very promising Holtby under contract for next season if he does bolt for home, but Boudreau is a lot worried more about the next game, not next season.
“We’ll use whoever we thing is going to win that particular game and that’s as far ahead as we’re gonna think,” Boudreau told The Post. “I mean, who’s gonna win this game tonight? [Once we decide] this is the goalie that’s going to win this, that’s the goalie that plays. The next night might be a totally different thing.”
The next year his options may be different.