To the surprise of many, former Chicago Blackhawks goaltender and two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford suddenly announced his retirement on Jan. 9. Crawford did so with a lucrative two-year, $7.8 million contract with the New Jersey Devils remaining, which tells us he did not come to this decision lightly.
Until Crawford himself gives an in-depth interview, his decision to hang up his skates will be a bit of a mystery to both Blackhawks and Devils fans.
There are several factors that may have led to his surprise announcement. While he showed in the bubble that he can still play the game at a very high level, he has endured several injuries in the last five years. Most recently, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 prior to the Blackhawks’ bubble playoff run. The injury, or illness, that probably affected him the most were his two concussions in 12 months and eventual post-concussion symptoms which kept him out of action for several months in 2017 and 2018.
Long-haul post-COVID-19 symptoms could have led to his decision as well.
A third factor to consider is that moving his wife and children to New Jersey for the next two years may have just been too much stress on the family. Crawford’s wife, Kristy, gave birth to the couple’s second child in April. Kristy is also a Chicago native and that may have figured into the decision. It is reported that Crawford had his heart set on re-signing in Chicago, but Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman indicated that he was not interested in offering the veteran goalie more than a one-year deal just days before free agency was set to open.
Whatever the case, Crawford had a magnificent career with the Blackhawks, which spans back to the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The young goalie out of Châteauguay, Quebec, was picked 52nd overall, just six slots before current Blackhawks Head Coach Jeremy Colliton (58th overall to the New York Islanders). Crawford was the second goalie taken in that 2003 draft, after first-overall selection Marc-Andre Fleury.
Underdog to NHL starting goalie
Following the NHL Entry Draft, he continued his junior career with his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) team, the Moncton Wildcats, for both the 2003–04 and 2004–05 seasons. Crawford still holds the Moncton team record for the lowest goals against average in a season (2.47), most wins in a season (35) and is tied for most shutouts in a season (six).
Crawford’s pro career started in the fall of 2005 when he was assigned to the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals, who were the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate at the time. Crawford later made his NHL debut in January of 2006 in relief of Adam Munro. He also made his first NHL start in 2006, but did not get his first NHL win and shutout until 2008.
It seemed as though Crawford was finally going to take over as an NHL backup in 2008–09, but then-Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon chose to sign free agent goaltender Cristobal Huet to split time with incumbent veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. It seemed again like Crawford would make his full time NHL debut in 2009–10, but he lost a tight camp battle with a little-known Finnish free agent named Antti Niemi.
It took Niemi asking for too much money on the free agent market and the Blackhawks finally walking away from Huet for Crawford to finally get an honest shot at playing in the NHL. This time, though, summer free agent signing Marty Turco stood in Crawford’s way, but, luckily, Turco turned in disappointing results.
Crawford took over the Blackhawks crease in late 2010 and never looked back.
Crawford’s final NHL game was a 35-save, 4–3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, in the bubble, on Aug. 18, 2020. So much happened in the decade from 2010 to 2020, though.
Known as “Crow” by his teammates, Crawford began a decade-long run in the crease for the Blackhawks on Oct. 11, 2010, and there were so many great memories he was a part of. Unfortunately, injuries ate into a good portion of his career in the final seasons.
His first notable injury occurred Dec. 1, 2014, while attending a Rise Against concert at the House of Blues in Chicago. As a result, he missed several weeks with a foot injury. The season ended on a much happier note, as the netminder won his second Stanley Cup championship and culminated with this slightly less legendary speech.
Almost two years to the day prior to their game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 3, 2016, the team surprised everyone with the news that Crawford had undergone an emergency appendectomy and would be unavailable for an undetermined amount of time. This event led to the now famous Eric Semborski game where a local Philadelphia emergency backup goalie was forced to dress and back up Scott Darling.
Oddly enough, this later became the less famous emergency goalie saga in Blackhawks lore.
Again, almost another year later to the day (Dec. 1, 2017), Crawford was put on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, but was able to return after three games. His return only lasted seven games, though. There has been some debate as to when the concussion was sustained, but, whether it was against the Dallas Stars or his final game of that season against the New Jersey Devils, he missed the rest of the season. It was evident that Crawford was not himself in either game.
In a somewhat controversial move, the Blackhawks flew Crawford to Arizona to try and have him rejoin the team in their game against the Coyotes, but on Feb. 12, 2018, he had a setback and was shelved for the rest of the season. After missing 10 months and 52 games, Crawford made his return to the Blackhawks. It was later disclosed that he suffered from post-concussion symptoms.
It was this concussion that ultimately led to the “more famous emergency goalie” incident. With Crawford on the shelf, then-starter Anton Forsberg was injured in a pre-game warmup routine and rookie Collin Delia was forced into action. As a result, Chicago had to call their scheduled emergency backup into action, Scott Foster, to back up Delia against the high-flying Winnipeg Jets. Leading the game 4–1 in the third period, Delia was forced to leave with severe cramps and turn the game over to Foster, who saved all seven shots he faced to help secure the win.
Just two months later, in December once again, Corey sustained another concussion. This time the injury was at the hands of his teammate Dylan Strome pushing San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane into Crawford. This resulted in the oft-injured backstop missing two months of the regular season, leaving offseason signee Cam Ward and Delia behind the struggling Blackhawks team.
His final injury saga was prior to returning from the COVID-19 pause when it was announced that Crawford contracted the virus and was recovering. He returned and played admirably behind a mediocre Blackhawks team, leading them past the Edmonton Oilers. Ultimately, his effort was not enough and Chicago bowed out with a whimper to the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite not being offered a contract to his liking by Bowman and the Blackhawks in the offseason, the veteran ended up playing all his NHL games with Chicago. He ranks in the top echelon of all-time Blackhawks goaltenders:
— Third in all-time games played (488)
— Third in all-time wins (260)
— Third in all-time saves (12,778)
— Second in save percentage (.918)
— Third in goals-against average (2.45)
— Seventh in shutouts (26)
— Two-time Stanley Cup winner (2013 and 2015)
— NHL All-Rookie Team (2011)
— Two-time Jennings Trophy winner (2013 with Ray Emery, 2015 with Scott Darling)
— Two-time NHL All Star
There is no disputing that Crawford struggled at times in his first couple of seasons, but he was able to overcome his struggles to become one of the most reliable goalies in the NHL.
His time with Chicago did not come without threats to his net, either. Darling, Emery, Antti Raanta and Robin Lehner all posed significant risks to his starting job at various points in the last decade.
Ultimately, he overcame all of them.
The legend of Corey Crawford
Is Corey Crawford a Hockey Hall of Famer?
In short, maybe.
He was never the top goalie in the NHL, which should be the first question asked. That said, he was top 10 for more than five years and was a top-five goalie for several years. If the group of potential inductees turns out to be less than sensational one year, you may see him get enough votes. Crawford is not a slam-dunk selection, however.
If the “Hall of Very Good” held selections, he would be in.
Should his number be retired?
Probably. He belongs in the top four of Blackhawks goaltenders with Glenn Hall, Tony Esposito and Ed Belfour. Hall and Esposito have their numbers already retired by the Blackhawks and there is an argument for Belfour as well.
A couple of factors may keep Belfour’s No. 30 from ever getting retired. First, his number is the most popular number for goalies. Second, despite his early success and awards, Belfour played less than half of his total NHL games with Chicago and never won a Stanley Cup with the organization.
Crawford’s No. 50, on the other hand, is a relatively unpopular number for players and he is the only goaltender in franchise history to win more than one Stanley Cup championship. His case is solid.
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