By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) Respect is a weird thing.
It’s earned, of course, but sometimes that route to garnering it is an odd one. Take the respect for Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
The 33-year-old Crawford has been out since leaving a Dec. 23 game against New Jersey in the first period after giving up three goals. It makes sense that some injury — classified as “upper body” by the team — was the culprit for such a poor performance, as Crawford has the second-best save percentage and third-best goals against average among starting NHL goalies. On Friday, coach Joel Quenneville said that Crawford is out indefinitely, which in hockey coach-speak is never promising news.
The Blackhawks have treaded water by going 3-3 since that loss, including a 4-1 win against the Oilers on Sunday, but they’re still in last place in the Central Division halfway through the regular season. In the net, Quenneville went from Anton Forsberg, who gave up five goals in Vancouver in the first game after Crawford’s injury, to Jeff Glass and back to Forsberg in that span. Neither goalie exactly inspires much confidence as of yet going forward. Forsberg had 32 saves on Sunday, but he’ll need more than one game to win fans and maybe his head coach over. And even if Glass being a 32-year-old rookie is a cool story, it’s not really an accident that he’s a 32-year-old rookie. Cat Silverman at The Athletic can chill your warm and fuzzies regarding that.
About that whole confidence part: Before his injury and in his previous years as Chicago’s goalie, Crawford has been an undeservedly peculiar figure. “Confidence” might not be the word a lot of Blackhawks fans use for a players with two Stanley Cups to his name and the best save percentage in franchise history among goalies to play at least 100 games in that sweater (yes, I’ll diss Scott Darling like that). Crawford’s time in Chicago has fluctuated between a vocal segment of the fan base calling for him to be ditched when he would have anything but a perfect game (leading to Chicago hockey social media speaking almost in entirely sarcastic tones about Crawford) to kind of forgetting he’s there when he’s doing his job, which he almost always is. Until he’s not there.
And with plenty of skaters on the Blackhawks failing to get the job done, Crawford is glaringly not there as the team finds itself in the basement in January. Respect for him is unfortunately at its highest when he’s not around, even among people who appreciate him.
Patrick Kane has been the only other steady presence on the ice all the while with his 40 points. None of his teammates has 30 points as of Monday. Youngsters like Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and now Vinnie Hinostroza have shown why they belong in the league, but it’s not enough. Jonathan Toews has looked human for most of the year, and did you forget before his goal Sunday that Brandon Saad was back in Chicago? Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have combined for one goal all season. The defensemen as a unit have been hitting several branches as they fall down the ugly tree most of the way and haven’t given the new goalies in net much of a chance all that often.
For the first half of the season, it felt like as long as there was a combo of typical Kane, another skater doing something positive offensively and Crawford being Crawford, this team would hang around and go on one of its usual spring runs after an apathetic winter. But Crawford’s absence now creates an ironic appreciation he didn’t often get prior.
“Guys being hurt, that’s part of the business,” Quenneville said before the game Sunday. “You deal with it. We know how important (Crawford) was to our team all year, but it’s a huge opportunity for other guys. … We’ve had some years relatively injury-free. This year was looking pretty clean for a while, but they can happen.”
And this particular injury, whatever it is (thanks, clandestine NHL disclosure rules), has the Blackhawks — the marquee franchise of the league and this city over the last 10 years — staring down tee times after the 82nd game for the first time since 2008. What a terrible way for a player to finally get appreciated.
Everyone saw how fickle the NHL postseason can be with the Nashville Predators knocking the Blackhawks out of the 2017 playoffs before anyone could pick their jaws back up. Getting your skate in the door then becomes an “anybody’s game” scenario, and the Hawks do have enough potential scorers on their roster — when healthy — to get hot. But that skate probably doesn’t wedge itself in if Crawford isn’t back on the ice soon.
Maybe that’s the ultimate respect that he’s always deserved.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.