With goalie Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks are a flawed-but-talented team capable of making a playoff run. Without Crawford, the Hawks might be a long shot even to make the playoffs.
Crawford has been out ‘‘indefinitely’’ since Christmas, and there’s a growing concern in the organization that he might miss the rest of the season with what three sources described as vertigo-like symptoms.
To be clear, he hasn’t been ruled out yet, and coach Joel Quenneville said last week that he expects Crawford to be back at some point. But the nebulous timetable means the best-case scenario still will take quite awhile. Perhaps too long to stay in playoff contention.
So what now? General manager Stan Bowman and the Hawks have a few options:
Go get a goalie
After trading for Anthony Duclair, Bowman said he likes the immediate potential of this roster. If that’s the case and Crawford indeed is done for the season, Bowman could seek a rental goalie ahead of the trade deadline Feb. 26. There are a handful of decent options on teams that might be sellers, and if Crawford is moved to long-term injured reserve, the Hawks will have plenty of cap space to make it work.
The Sabres’ Robin Lehner and the Red Wings’ Petr Mrazek are solid goalies on lousy teams. Jaroslav Halak is a proven veteran who’s splitting time with Thomas Greiss on the Islanders. Perhaps even former Hawks goalie Antti Raanta is an option. He is in his first season as the starter for the putrid Coyotes, a frequent trading partner.
The problem is, the Hawks don’t have a lot of assets to trade unless they’re willing to part with a roster player (Michal Kempny, a pending free agent, comes to mind). Vinnie Hinostroza was thought to be a trade chip earlier in the season, but he has been playing very well in a top-line role for the last month. And the Hawks already have traded away their second-round pick (in the ill-fated Phil Danault trade with the Canadiens) and their fourth-round pick (in the Johnny Oduya trade last February).
Improve the team elsewhere
The fact is, while they’re relatively unproven, Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass have similar stats to those more expensive trade options. Glass has a .910 save percentage in six starts, and Forsberg has a .915 save percentage in four starts since Crawford was put on injured reserve. Neither is anywhere near as consistent and reliable as Crawford, however. So the Hawks might choose to focus on improving the team in front of them, starting with the defense.
The Hawks are among the top 10 in the league in goals per game (3.02) and shots per game, so offense isn’t the issue; defense is. They’ve been better lately, but they are still in the bottom 10 in shots against per game. Thanks largely to Crawford, they’re still in the top 10 in goals against per game (2.71). Duncan Keith is still a top-pairing defenseman, but he’s not playing at the superb level the Hawks are used to. After Keith, the Hawks have mostly third-pairing guys. A trade for a top-four defenseman could be huge.
Of course, the Hawks hardly will be the only team looking for players such as the Jets’ Jacob Trouba, the Red Wings’ Mike Green or the Penguins’ Ian Cole, among others.
This might be the likeliest scenario: Ride it out with Forsberg and Glass, hope Crawford recovers in time for the stretch run to carry the Hawks into the playoffs and go from there. The Hawks aren’t nearly bad enough to tank for prized Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the draft, and they’re probably not good enough to warrant mortgaging the future on a mediocre rental goalie.
Despite the big contracts atop the roster, the Hawks have done a good job of getting younger and faster. They also have freed up cap space for offseason improvements. So the window still can be open next season, even if Crawford’s injury slams it shut this season.
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