Châteauguay native and Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford greets fans and signs autographs as he visits his former home town in Montreal on Monday September 2, 2013.
Photograph by: Allen McInnis, The Gazette
One tradition, unique to the National Hockey League, is the practice of allowing each member of the championship team to spend a day with Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford had his turn Monday and the opportunity to share the moment with the people in his hometown of Châteauguay was made more special when the Blackhawks rewarded the 28-year-old with a six-year contract extension. The deal, which kicks in for the 2014-15 season, is worth $36 million. Crawford has one season remaining on his current three-year, $8-million contract, which will pay him $2.5 million in 2013-14.
“The last couple of months have been great and it’s just getting better and better,” said Crawford, who signed the contract minutes before he began his day with the Stanley Cup.
Crawford said he was delighted to have the opportunity to share the Cup with family and friends in the town where he began playing minor hockey. But it was difficult to tell who was more delighted — the goaltender or the fans.
Crawford was scheduled to meet the general public at noon, but the parking lot adjacent to the Centre Multisports began filling at 9 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., fans were being diverted to the lot at the Wal-Mart across the street, and that soon reached capacity as thousands of fans snaked through the lineup outside the arena to await their hero.
Crawford mingled with family and friends at an invitation-only reception inside the arena and held a brief news conference before making his first appearance outside at 12:30 p.m. He spent the remainder of the afternoon signing autographs, shaking hands and posing for pictures.
While many of his family members sported Blackhawks jerseys with his number 50 and his name on the back, Crawford gave a nod to the humid conditions and opted for a grey T-shirt.
The contract extension put an exclamation point on what had been a dream season for Crawford. He shared the regular-season workload with Ray Emery and they combined to win the Jennings Trophy for the lowest team goals-against average in the NHL.
But it was during the playoffs that Crawford produced the best hockey of his career. He had a 16-7 record, a league-best 1.84 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage as Chicago won its second Cup in four years.
The contract extension came as a bit of a surprise because (a) Crawford has a year remaining on his current contract and (b) the Blackhawks walked away from a $2.75-million arbitration award to goaltender Antti Niemi after he led Chicago to the Cup in 2010.
But Chicago general manager Stan Bowman told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune that there was a method to his madness when he let Niemi go.
“One of the factors that went into us making the move back in 2010 was we knew we had Corey in the wings here ready to take on a bigger role,” Bowman said. “We’ve had a strategy going back a few seasons.”
If we can take Bowman at his word, he rates as the smartest guy in the room because he put his faith in a goalie who had appeared in six NHL games and had only one win.
The $6-million cap hit for Crawford on his new deal is also a bit of a surprise, but it reflects the belief that the team cap will continue to rise from the current $64.3 million. With Crawford under contract, the Hawks have committed $55.6 million to 13 players for the 2014-15 season.
“The salary cap is something you certainly have to plan for,” Bowman said. “The reality is we need a top-notch goaltender, we have one in-house here with Corey. We know him well. He’s grown up with our organization and he’s earned the ultimate with our group. There was never a question in our minds that we want to commit to him.”
The 28-year-old Crawford said the new contract wouldn’t affect his attitude and that he would continue to work hard. The Blackhawks have a young nucleus, but will have to deal with the Stanley Cup hangover in the coming season. It figures to be more difficult than in most years because last season’s playoffs ended later than usual and this year’s schedule starts earlier than usual because of the Olympics.
When asked whether he had a chance to relax during the off-season, Crawford said: “I turned my phone off for a week, but the rest of the summer was busy.”
In addition to his normal summer training activities, Crawford joined other goalies in introducing a new line of equipment to conform with the new NHL rules regarding the reduced size of pads and travelled to Calgary for the Team Canada Olympic orientation camp.
Crawford said he hopes to make the trip to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but his primary goal is to play well for Chicago. And that could be the key to an Olympic appearance because the three goaltending spots are wide open. Crawford is joined on the preliminary roster by Braden Holtby, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith and Carey Price, and the final selections will be based on how well these guys are playing in December.
The one hurdle facing Crawford is that he’s only member of the group who has never worn a Team Canada jersey. Then again, he’s only guy in the group who has brought the Stanley Cup home.
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