The tandem that served in net for the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks were quite impressive. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery combined for 36 wins in 47 games played (Carter Hutton started the final game of the regular season). They had identical goals against averages of 1.94 and their saver percentages were nearly identical as well – Crawford edged emery by just .004. They each had three shutouts as well.
Splitting time in the shortened season proved to be pivotal. With so many games crammed in, the two were able to stay fresh and the organization didn’t see a significant drop off from one goalie to the next. When it came time for the playoffs, they knew Crawford wouldn’t be playing on fumes because of all the rest he had during the season.
I was surprised to see the decisions that were made once free agency started. Nobody should begrudge Emery for going somewhere else where he will have a better chance to be a number one goalie. That being said, it’s a little surprising that a guy who went 17-1 couldn’t get more than a one-year deal that pays just $1.65 million. Sure there are health concerns, but that’s still well below what I thought he was worth.
The ‘Hawks didn’t flinch though. In fact, they ended up paying more for their backup. Nikolai Khabibulin returns to Chicago for a second stint with the team. After earning 90 regular season wins in four seasons with the Blackhawks, the “Bulin Wall” fell off the map somewhat. He won 67 games in four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.
Chicago isn’t expecting much from the 40-year-old netminder who was born in Sverdlovsk, Russia. They just need him to be a solid veteran presence. This is a guy who won the Stanley Cup while with Tampa Bay in 2004. He also was the starting goalie when the Blackhawks went to the Conference Finals in 2009. All the ‘Hawks need now is for “Khabi” to spell Crawford every once in a while to make sure he is ready to go come playoff time.
Crawford has grown into quite the player. There were plenty of questions heading into last season. Chicago was eliminated by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 playoffs and I bet “Crow” still has nightmares about how some of those games ended. He hasn’t let that affect him though; instead he lets his play do the talking for him – for the most part.
As far as the pipeline is concerned, the team doesn’t have anybody is who ready to step in right away. Unless there is an injury, you can expect Crawford and Khabibulin to be the goaloes for the entirety of the season. The organization would much rather Antti Raanta learn the American style while playing the minors than up with the big club. Mac Carruth and Kent Simpson are also in the system, but they’re in the same boat as Raanta.
The team will have a new goalie coach this year. Stephane Waite, who spent a decade with the organization, left to coach with Montreal. That is something to keep an eye on. Waite deserves some credit for what happened last year as well as the development of both Crawford and Antti Niemi. Whoever they bring in has to have tough skin, because we all know how easy it is to blame assistant coaches when players start to under perform.
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