With 50 points through 45 games, the Chicago Blackhawks are 12th in the Western Conference and three points out of a playoff spot. It’s not a place we’ve become accustomed to them being in and now there is concern the team’s MVP to this point may miss the rest of the season.
Initial reports were that Crawford was dealing with vertigo-like symptoms, but during an appearance on Sportsnet 590’s Prime Time Sports Wednesday night, senior advisor to the Blackhawks Scotty Bowman suggested Crawford could be dealing with post-concussion syndrome.
Crawford has been one of the NHL’s best goalies this season with a .929 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average for a Hawks team that allows the ninth-most shots against per game (32.6). Anton Forsberg and 32-year-old NHL first-timer Jeff Glass have taken over and led Chicago to a 6-4-1 record since Crawford last played on Dec. 23. The two have a combined 2.64 GAA in that time, but with just 31 NHL games played between them, will the Hawks look to add a more experienced No. 1 for the stretch drive?
There is no one available who will replace everything lost with Crawford. But here are some goalie options GM Stan Bowman could look at for a playoff push:
Robin Lehner, Buffalo Sabres
The good thing about Lehner as far as contracts go, is that there’s no commitment to him after this season when he’ll become a UFA. At that time, the Hawks could flip him in trade again and if he plays well in Chicago, Lehner’s value may even rise by then.
In the two seasons prior to this one, Lehner posted save percentages over .920 while facing a substantial workload behind a weak Sabres team. This season he’s taken a step back to a .910 percentage, although he was great in December in stopping 324 of 349 shots. Lehner can be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character, so he’s not exactly the definition of a safe and sturdy add. And since Lehner has a $4-million cap hit this season, the Hawks would need to put Crawford on LTIR before they could pick him up.
Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes
There’s no doubt this has been a nightmare season for the Coyotes, but you have to wonder if they would have been any better had Raanta been healthy. The 28-year-old has a .915 save percentage in 24 games and has been fairly consistent when he is active. His contract situation may fit best with the Hawks’ predicament, as Raanta makes just $1 million and will become a UFA at season’s end, when he can sniff out another No. 1 job.
He’s also a former Blackhawk, having been signed by the team in 2013 and going on to play 29 games for them in two seasons. Raanta was set to break out as the next backup-turned-starter story to follow the recent graduations of Cam Talbot and Scott Darling, and could prove his value on a competitive team in Chicago.
Petr Mrazek/Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
In this Wings duo you’ll find a very risky pickup, and one slightly less so. Just two years ago Mrazek posted a .921 save percentage and was set to become Detroit’s long-term No. 1 to take over for Howard who is eight years his senior. But it all came crashing down with a terrible 2016-17, after which he went unprotected and unclaimed in the NHL Expansion Draft, and Mrazek has been even worse this season with an .894 save percentage in a clear backup role. He makes $4 million against the cap this season and will be an RFA at the end of it, so at least there’s no obligation for Chicago beyond that.
Howard, meanwhile, has gone the other way and resurrected his career to take hold of the starter’s job again. He doesn’t have a shutout yet this season, and carries an average .914 save percentage. The concern would be his high-danger save percentage, which is an indicator of his true performance level. Over the past three years combined, Howard has the 62nd-best HDSV% at .776.
Calvin Pickard/Garret Sparks, Toronto Maple Leafs
Since both of these goalies are currently in the AHL, there is a certain degree of risk to acquire either one for a No. 1 NHL job. But both Pickard and Sparks are currently in the top six in AHL save percentage and GAA. The question here would be what the price of a trade would be, as the Leafs would be happy to maintain their goaltending depth and aren’t in a position where they have to do something yet. Chicago also doesn’t really have an overly attractive and expendable trade option on defence with which to entice the Leafs.
Both Marlies goalies are in their mid-20s, while Pickard is an RFA at season’s end and Sparks still has another year under contract before he hits RFA status. Sparks hasn’t had NHL exposure in the past two years, while Pickard posted a .904 save percentage last season when he had to fill in for an injured Semyon Varlamov and play 50 games. There would be nothing certain in acquiring either.
Jeff Glass/Anton Forsberg, Chicago Blackhawks
Considering their lack of available trade assets and the fact Crawford still may be able to make it back in time for the playoffs, the best course for the Blackhawks may just be to stay the course. The two have similar numbers and if the Hawks proceed with Glass and Forsberg, coach Joel Quenneville would undoubtedly be going with the hot hand instead of riding a No. 1.
If this is the route the Hawks take, they would instead need to target defencemen to bolster a thinning blue line. If the goalies available for trade are too expensive by contract or acquisition cost, or just too risky, Bowman could do his current goaltending fill-ins a huge favour by bringing in defencemen who would help lighten their heavy workload.