The End of a Legacy
With the Chicago Blackhawks season officially over following a 4-1 series loss in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the team finally enters their official offseason. The Blackhawks enter the offseason with some major questions ahead of them. Most notably will be the question of what this team looks like for the 2020-2021 season.
Chicago will enter free agency with $7.3 million in cap space, and have four big free agents that are coming off the books as well. These names include three restricted free agents, Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome, while their top unrestricted free agent will be long-time goaltender, Corey Crawford. Chicago’s GM Stan Bowman told Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Chicago, “It’s a reality of our game and this is where we’re at as a sport, and we’ll make it work. That’s our job, is to figure out how we can have some flexibility. So that’s going to be a part of it, as well as making sure we keep the players we need to keep. It’s a balancing act, and it’s something that we’ve put a lot of thought into already and we’re going to keep working through in the coming weeks.”
Right off the bat, if I’m Bowman, Kubalik is the number one guy I want returning next season. Kubalik broke out for the Blackhawks in the season’s return-to-play series against Edmonton and Vegas. Kubalik finished in the top 100 in points scored last season, and finished third on the team with 46 points (behind Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews). Kubalik’s age is also a huge advantage to wanting to bring him back. I would also say Caggiula would be the 2nd name on the list for Bowman, as his physical play makes him an asset to have on the ice. I would have to imagine Dylan Strome would be likely to go, barring any other trades done by the Blackhawks to dump salary, but the most fascinating name is Crawford.
Corey Crawford has been with the Blackhawks since 2005, and is 35-years old. After battling injuries over the last few seasons, he still demonstrated that he can be an effective and talented goalie throughout the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Today, Crawford addressed his NHL future for the first time since the Hawks were eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights last week. Crawford told Roumeliotis, “I would like to be back [in Chicago]. We still have a lot of great pieces on this team. To win another Stanley Cup in Chicago would be unbelievable. That’s the No.1 goal, is to win one more championship.”
Crawford also noted he has not budged on his desire to be a starter. He said, “I don’t want to play half the games and sit on the bench for stretches at a time. I think my value is just not as good doing that. I’m way more valuable playing games and playing consistently. It really depends on how much I’m going to be used. Salary, that can be discussed. That’s something that is not important at this time. We’ll see how those discussions go, but staying in Chicago and trying to win again, that’s No. 1.”
If you’re a Blackhawks fan and a huge Corey Crawford guy like me, this is great news to hear. With so little to spend on free agency this season, getting Crawford back would be absolutely doable, especially after these comments. His last contract saw him earn $6 million a year, and if Bowman offered him a two-year deal worth $3 million each year, I believe that would be very appropriate given Crawford’s age and time with the organization. The playing time will be the issue. Chicago also currently features Collin Delia (age 26) and Malcolm Subban (age 26). Delia is under team control for two more seasons, and Subban is a restricted free agent who made less than $1 million this season, who would be more affordable to bring back to split time with. The injury history with Crawford could push Bowman to follow this cheaper route for the 2020-2021 season.
As much as it pains me to say this, I very much believe Corey Crawford has played his last game in a Blackhawks sweater. He had a great run with the organization, and helped bring three Stanley Cups to Chicago in a span of five years. In the end, his injury history and desire to be the starter will force Bowman to go with a younger and cheaper option.