By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) This time, the Blackhawks decided to make sure their Stanley Cup-winning goalie stays with them.
Corey Crawford got the job done last year. It started with the 24-game streak without a regulation loss at the start of the season and ended with the Stanley Cup lifted high overhead.
The Blackhawks rewarded him with a six-year, $36 million extension Sunday. General manager Stan Bowman made the right decision, even if it will cause salary-cap headaches in the future.
There is no way to avoid salary cap issues. This year, NHL teams can spend up to $64.3 million this season, reduced from last year’s $70 million figure. If business is good in the NHL—and it should be–the salary cap will go up in 2014-15. If it’s not, Bowman and the league’s general managers will have to find way to pare salary from their rosters. That will cause the GMs to reach for the aspirin – and perhaps the Scotch.
The last time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, they did not reward their goalie. Instead of paying Antti Niemi, they let him walk away and sign with San Jose. The Blackhawks were not operating under the theory that their goalie was vital to their performance.
They thought they won the Cup in 2010 because they had superior skills. They were better than their opponents at skating, passing and shooting and that allowed them to possess the puck the majority of the time.
As a result, they did not need a goalie to “stand on his head.” Instead, they needed a goalie who was “adequate” and could come up with key saves when the Blackhawks needed them.
While the theory was bold, it went against conventional hockey thinking. If Bowman did not think that Niemi was a good goalie, he was wrong. He has had three solid years with the Sharks.
But the Blackhawks made the right choice this time by signing Crawford. He is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he has the one characteristic that all goalies need to have to be successful: A short memory.
He plays the game in the moment and he doesn’t dwell on past mistakes. This is a killer in all sports, but especially for a goaltender. Crawford was put to the test like few others in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
Crawford’s acid moment came after Game 4. The Blackhawks defeated the Bruins 6-5 in overtime when Brent Seabrook’s slapshot found its way past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. But that was the game that Crawford was exposed. All five of Boston’s goals got past Crawford’s shaky glove hand.
The Bruins had lost the battle, but surely they would win the war. How could Crawford have any chance to stop the Bruins with such a shaky glove hand?
Crawford’s game was picked apart by NBC’s Pierre McGuire and the analysts on the NHL network. He didn’t suffer from a brief lapse – he had a real weakness. One would have imagined that Crawford had gotten no sleep between Game 4 and Game 5, knowing the Bruins would come after his glove hand.
Well, all the talk and all the criticism did not bother Crawford one iota. He simply put the game in the past. He gave up one goal in Game 5 and the Blackhawks took the series lead. He gave up two goals back in Boston in Game 6 and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
He had a brilliant year with a 1.94 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in the regular season and a 1.84 GAA and .932 save percentage in the playoffs.
He set the standard for putting a bad game behind him and rising to the occasion. If the Blackhawks had decided to stand by their old theory and had walked away from Crawford, they would have been making a very foolish decision.
They will still have to battle the Stanley Cup hangover that has impacted all NHL champions since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back titles in 1997 and ’98. However, they won’t have to worry about their goaltending because Crawford is a winner and worth the investment.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.