When Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak seeks inspiration for the coming season, he should think of two words:
Just two seasons back Crawford was a mess for the Blackhawks. He flopped about in his crease during goal mouth scrambles, lunging for the puck like it was a barn mouse. He flailed defensively at shots. Pucks seemed to fly right through his body into the net, like a Las Vegas magic.
His goals-against average soared from 2.30 to 2.72. His save percentage shrunk from .917 to .903.
Come playoff time, Crawford posted a dismal .893 save percentage in six games as Chicago caught an early postseason cab.
As a result of that failure, he entered last season sharing his duty with Ray Emery. Crawford pulled himself together behind Chicago's outstanding defense and went 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
(Emery was even better: 17-1-0 with a 1.94 save percentage and a .922 save percentage. That earned him the chance to extend his career in Philadelphia this season.)
During the spring Crawford carried the load in goal as the Blackhawks rolled to another Stanley Cup. He played in 23 games and posted brilliant ratios (1.84/.932) during postseason play.
His reward: A six-year, $36 million contract extension that starts in 2014-15.
“There was never a question in our minds that we want to commit to him because it’s the most important position we have,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told reporters in a conference call Monday. “We have a lot of faith in his ability to continue, and he’s a young goalie. He certainly worked hard to get himself to the NHL. Now he’s proven he can do it at the highest level.”
That contract could force Bowman to make some hard calls on other players, due to salary cap considerations for 2014 and beyond.
“The other things we’ll figure out as time goes on,” Bowman said. “A lot changes from year to year. We don’t have all the knowledge of where the cap will be in two years or three years. The one thing we do know is we will have a great goaltender. That’s why this is an easy decision for us.”
A $36 million contract can get a man’s attention, especially as he enters the “walk year” of his contract. If Halak plays well and IF the Blues win the Stanley Cup – as The Hockey News boldly predicts they will do – then he will cash in one way or another.
If things go badly . . . well, then, Jaroslav might have his hat in hand as he look elsewhere for work. There are plenty of once-prominent goaltenders on the outside looking in right now, starting with veterans Ilya Bryzgalov and Tim Thomas.
Will Halak's earning power soar or plunge? He will start addressing that question next month.
AROUND THE RINKS: The Calgary Flames have a new sheriff in Brian Burke, the bombastic executive who built the Canucks into a contender and won a Cup in Anaheim before coming up short in Toronto. Finally that franchise has regained some credibility after long run of futility. But will the famously impatient Burke be able to guide that franchise on a steady course to relevance? . . . Salary cap considerations have created opportunities for several players to take bigger roles. Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko is just one of many second-year forwards who could take a big step this season . . . There are plenty of unsigned veterans still looking for work, including several potential impact players. That salary cap reduction took a toll on some older guys, as well as a potential prime-age scorer in Damien Brunner . . . In hockey-mad Toronto, a lengthy Nazem Kadri holdout would create quite the circus. The skilled pivotman delivered a breakout campaign during the final year of his initial NHL deal, but the Maple Leafs want to see him do it again . . . Among the good young centers to keep an eye on this season is former Blues prospect Lars Eller, who assumed a more offensive role for the Canadiens late last season.