On the first day of training camp, goalie Corey Crawford uttered the words no Blackhawks fan wanted to hear: “I’m just not ready to go yet.”
After the Hawks remained mum about his health for the last nine months, Crawford finally provided clarity Friday by confirming he suffered a concussion and is still dealing with lingering symptoms.
“Most of them are gone,” said Crawford, who didn’t reveal what symptoms he still has. “But I’m not clear yet, so until that happens, I won’t be back in.”
Crawford said he felt good after his solo session with goalie coach Jimmy Waite before camp officially began Friday morning. It was the first time he faced pucks since December.
For a team desperate to get its No. 1 goalie back, Crawford couldn’t give a timetable for his return.
“It’s hard to say right now,” Crawford said. “But things have been progressing really well.
“I’m trying to get back as quick as possible, but I’m close. I’m really close.”
With a deep Western Conference — especially after the Sharks acquired star defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Senators — coach Joel Quenneville stressed the importance of starting the season strong.
“[The conference is] not going to get any weaker,” Quenneville said. “You got to have a lot of good things happening with your team off the start of the season, and you can’t have any lulls if you want to make the playoffs.”
The Hawks realize they can’t follow that script if Crawford isn’t in the net.
Before his injury, Crawford posted a .929 save percentage, which was second-best in the NHL at the time. In the final 47 games last season, the five goalies replacing Crawford combined for a .901 save percentage.
“When you look at last year how effective [Crawford] was and how important he was to the start of our season and the difference when he was not around is probably as big as any player in the league,” Quenneville said. “So we don’t want to say that we expect him to be at that level or to be carrying us like he basically did for a big stretch last year. We just want Crow to be Crow.
“We know he’s as good as any goalie in the game. I think sometimes he might’ve been underestimated in his contribution in that area. … Certainly not too many goalies in the league have that ability to win games outright like he can.”
But if Crawford can’t start the season opener Oct. 4 against the Senators, general manager Stan Bowman said he’s confident with the Hawks’ depth in goal. They likely would have to rely on backup Cam Ward, whom they signed this summer to a one-year, $3 million deal.
“[Ward is] going to handle the load of being a No. 1 guy if that’s what’s called upon,” Bowman said. “As of right now, that’s what it looks like. That can change as Corey progresses toward that role. But it’s nice knowing that we’ve got a guy that’s got hundreds of games under his belt and he’s played in pressure situations.”
And Ward is ready to step up and start if Crawford isn’t healthy.
“I’m preparing this camp to be one of the goaltenders,” said Ward, who had a 2.73 goals-against average last season. “I’m going to do what I can to prepare myself to have a great year, whether that be 20 games or 50 games.”