Since the end of the dismal 2017-18 season — a year of promise that was derailed by Corey Crawford’s head injury in late December — the Blackhawks have steadfastly said they expect their star goalie to be back in time for training camp and the start of the season.
General manager Stan Bowman said it. Coach Joel Quenneville said it. They both reaffirmed that belief at the draft. Heck, about 15 minutes before Crawford’s first public comments since an ill-fated morning skate in Arizona on Feb. 12, Bowman on Friday said it was his assumption that Crawford will be at full speed for training camp. And Quenneville said he expects Crawford to be his starting goaltender on opening night.
Well, the only person whose opinion matters is Crawford’s. And he’s not nearly as certain.
“That’s hard to say right now, but it’s very possible,” Crawford said at the Blackhawks Convention at the downtown Hilton. “We’ve come a long way in the last couple months, and there’s a really good chance that could happen.”
Crawford said he’s “feeling pretty good right now, [but] I am not at 100 percent yet.”
In fact, his eyes reddened a bit and his voice wavered when he was asked about the last seven months and whether he, at any point, feared for his career or his long-term health. He wouldn’t go into specifics about the injury or the recovery process, but his voice betrayed his feelings.
“Treatments are going well, and we’re making small steps. And I’m getting a little better, so it’s a process,” he said. “It’s been a process since I left in December. It hasn’t been easy.”
He then paused for a moment to compose himself.
“But I’ll be back.”
The question is when. Now that there’s some doubt that Crawford will be ready, there’s a lot of doubt that the Hawks will be able to rebound from a last-place finish. No matter how well the core plays, no matter how big a leap forward the younger guys take, no Crawford likely means no chance.
“He certainly feels he’s going to be ready for camp, ready to start the season, and we feel that he’s capable of being one of the best goalies in the league,” Quenneville said. “And that’s what makes a huge difference for our team. We’re going to need him to be really good, and we’re going to need him to be the Crow that we’ve always seen and appreciated.”
Crawford might not necessarily agree with the first part of that comment, but he insisted that when he does come back, he will indeed be his old self.
“I don’t doubt that at all,” he said.
Crawford was put on injured reserve over Christmas, and the Hawks have never specified what his injury was. The Sun-Times reported in January that it was a head injury, and that vertigo-like, post-concussion symptoms were keeping him off the ice. He started skating in February, then flew to Arizona for a morning skate, during which he lightly participated.
He hasn’t been on the ice since.
Asked if the trip to Arizona was a mistake, Crawford demurred.
“The training staff has done a great job to move me along the process, and we tried that to see where I was at, and it didn’t work out,” he said. “I would have liked to come back at that time or even before that, but it really wasn’t in the cards to do that. It wasn’t smart to do that and maybe create something worse.”
So the wait continues. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer; Crawford firmly believes that. But will he be ready for the opening of camp in mid-September? Or opening night Oct. 4?
Nobody knows. And only Crawford will be able to say for sure.
“It’s good to hear that he’s getting better, so that’s positive,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “There’s still a month and a half until training camp, so hopefully he’ll be ready. And if he’s not ready for training camp, hopefully he’s ready for Game 1. And if he’s not ready by Game 1, hopefully he’s ready by Christmas or something.”