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Blackhawks won’t re-sign Corey Crawford, commit to rebuilding through youth

The Hawks will turn to prospects Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen as their 2020-21 goaltenders, the first step in general manager Stan Bowman’s “philosophical” change in their roster-building approach.

Longtime Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford will not return next season, ushering in a new era for the team.
Longtime Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford will not return next season, ushering in a new era for the team.
Bill Kostroun/AP

The Blackhawks’ rebuild has a green light at last.

Longtime goalie Corey Crawford won’t return to the Hawks next season, general manager Stan Bowman said Thursday, and his departure soon might be followed by the departures of other veterans.

After three consecutive seasons of losing records with their aging Stanley Cup core, the Hawks have committed to building through youth moving forward.

‘‘Next year’s different,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘We’re going to have a different emphasis, and we’re going to have new players coming. We’re not really looking back. We’re looking forward to where we want to get to, and we’re going to build something exciting.’’

Crawford, 35, started 473 games and won two Cups as the Hawks’ primary goalie since 2010-11. But he’ll become an unrestricted free agent at 11 a.m. Friday, joining a loaded class of UFA goalies.

Bowman said he had an emotional conversation with Crawford early Thursday about his departure.

‘‘He’s up there with the legends of the Blackhawks,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘The message to Corey and everyone else today is that we’ve decided that we’ve got some goaltenders here in Chicago that we believe in.’’

The Hawks will turn to Collin Delia, 26, and Kevin Lankinen, 25 — two of the best goalies in the American Hockey League the last few seasons — to take over the goaltending duties at the NHL level.

Delia made 16 appearances with the Hawks in 2018-19 and had a decent .908 save percentage behind a decimated team. He was projected to be the backup this past season before the sudden addition of Robin Lehner. Lankinen has yet to play in the NHL.

Bowman also is hoping to re-sign well-traveled backup Malcolm Subban, 26, despite not tendering him a qualifying offer Wednesday.

‘‘With any young goalie, there’s always an opportunity where you have to give them a chance to see what they can do,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘We saw that with [Antti] Niemi. We saw that with Crawford. We saw that with [Antti] Raanta.’’

Collin Delia has made 18 previous NHL appearances but could be the Blackhawks’ starting goalie next season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the salary cap staying flat for next season, the space-strapped Hawks and Crawford reportedly had not seen eye-to-eye during contract negotiations. Crawford made $6 million annually during his expiring contract and expected a slight decrease, but the Hawks allegedly were offering barely half that.

Bowman nonetheless insisted the decision to move on from Crawford was more about the direction of the organization than about financial disagreements. That indicates other long-tenured and/or important players also might be on the move.

‘‘Now that we’ve made the decision the way that we’re going to move forward [with youth], there’s going to be a lot more things that we’re going to talk about over the coming days as far as planning next year’s team,’’ Bowman said.

Bowman avoided explicitly labeling the Hawks’ new approach as a full-on rebuild, but he made it clear this represents a ‘‘philosophical’’ shift in team-building.

‘‘I don’t think you have to make a statement where it’s all or nothing,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s not all veterans; it’s not all young players. It’s going to be a mixture, and that’s what we’re looking for.’’

The Hawks have shopped wing Brandon Saad a moderate amount in recent weeks. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported the Avalanche and Bruins have shown particular interest. Saad, 27, could fetch an impressive package of draft picks and prospects in exchange.

Other useful veterans — such as 29-year-olds Calvin de Haan and Andrew Shaw (if he’s healthy) or even 27-year-old Connor Murphy, although the Hawks’ probably would prefer to keep him — also might be used as trade chips.

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith — the other core members on the same level as Crawford — are likely safe, but they might be less untouchable than they have been. Brent Seabrook’s contract remains basically impossible to move.

In place of the veterans moving out, the Hawks will look to find gems among a list of prospects who could compete for NHL jobs: forwards Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Brandon Hagel, Evan Barratt, MacKenzie Entwistle, Cam Morrison and Matej Chalupa and defensemen Ian Mitchell, Lucas Carlsson, Wyatt Kalynuk, Dennis Gilbert, Nicolas Beaudin and Alec Regula.

Some of those prospects ultimately will flesh out the roster around the Hawks’ pre-existing young core of Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist, Alex DeBrincat and now Dominik Kubalik. The Hawks also imagine Lukas Reichel, the 17th overall pick in the draft Tuesday, becoming a cornerstone piece in a few years.

‘‘When you look at young players, you have to give them the opportunity, you have to guide them, give them feedback,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘There are going to be bumps in the road, but the idea is we’re going to get more out of them as we go along.’’

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman is changing the “philosophy” of the team’s roster-building strategy.
AP Photo/Amr Alfiky

The roots of this decision likely can be traced to April 27, when the Hawks fired longtime president John McDonough.

Before that day, McDonough’s influence ran through all corners of the organization. Although Bowman had the power to make personnel decisions on a micro basis, he probably wouldn’t have been granted the authority to reimagine the Hawks’ roster-building philosophy.

But McDonough’s dismissal and Danny Wirtz’s appointment as interim president opened the door for Bowman to assume more power over the Hawks’ hockey operations.

The NHL’s coronavirus shutdown and the Hawks’ longer-than-expected playoff run in August delayed the visible effects of that power shift. But with the draft and free agency finally taking place this week, Bowman’s macro-level plans are surfacing.

‘‘A lot of teams are focusing on looking for young players who can take that next step and play a bigger role,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘That’s really more the direction that we’re headed.’’