Calgary Sun writer Eric Francis has the scoop on the Corey Crawford negotiations. In Francis’s Sunday Sun column, he noted Crawford’s agent, Gilles Lupien, said he and the Blackhawks are planning to hold the negotiations face-to-face at the NHL Draft June 24-25 in St. Paul.
“The Chicago Blackhawks have identified rookie goalie Corey Crawford as their top priority to re-sign past next season, and Crawford is amenable to it. His agent, Gilles Lupien, said they spoke three weeks ago and agreed they’ll hammer out a deal face-to-face at the draft where he’ll table three possible deals ranging from two to four years in length.”
If true, one would wonder why the lack of urgency, specifically on the Blackhawks’ side? This approach is similar to how Stan Bowman handled the Antti Niemi negotiations.
First off, aside from Cristobal Huet, who the Blackhawks still won’t be able to afford on their cap next season barring a major cap cut, the Blackhawks don’t have a single goaltender under contract currently for next season.
Marty Turco is an unrestricted free agent and a possible return is very much in doubt. Hannu Toivonen is a UFA but if he returns it will be to start in Rockford. Alexander Salak, the 24 year old Czech acquired in February from the Panthers along with Michael Frolik, is a restricted free agent. Salak has never played in the NHL and while he ranked as one of the best netminders in Sweden this year, he was an average goaltender in Rochester (AHL) in 2009-10 and the arrival of Jacob Markstrom chased Salak back to Europe. While Salak’s resume is not too different from Crawford’s pre 2010-11, he’s still unproven and if the Hawks are aiming to be Cup contenders next year, would they really put themselves in a position to have an unproven commodity within an injury of pinning their season on Salak? Sure, they got lucky with Niemi and Crawford was phenomenal this year despite never asserting himself in five minor league seasons prior to getting his chance. Going to that well three consecutive years though may not be the smartest thing to do.
Unsigned prospects Mac Carruth and Kent Simpson, both 19 and with a year of junior eligibility left, are years away. Alec Richards lost the IceHogs’ starting job to Toivonen this year, needs more time and may not ever be the answer.
So, as you can see, Crawford’s status is of the utmost highest priority. Why the wait?
Putting negotiations off until late June can only complicate matters. From Crawford’s perspective, if he and his agent are willing to put talks off until late June, why not just wait until July 4th then?
Tomas Vokoun and Ilya Bryzgalov are the top free agent goaltenders hitting the market on July 1. Crawford is the top RFA, followed by Washington’s Simyon Varlamov. Other unrestricted names of note include Dwayne Roloson (41), J.S. Gigure, Peter Budaj, Pascal Leclaire, Mathieu Garon and potentially Evgeni Nabokov.
While the market for goaltenders has cooled in recent years, there’s really no way to accurately gauge what will happen on July 1st.
The ‘market’ is looking up for goaltenders. In recent months both Antti Niemi and Craig Anderson got huge raises. After the Hawks walked away from Niemi’s $2.75M one year arbitration award last August, Niemi signed with the Sharks for one year at $2.0M. Then after a shaky start and Antero Nittimakiy’s inury, Niemi was great for two-plus months. The Sharks saw that and gave Niemi a 4-year $15.2M contract on March 1st.
Most chuckled when Ottawa locked a recently acquired Craig Anderson up to the tune of 4 years and $12.75M three weeks later, but the deal further indicated the goalie market is better today than it was last summer.
Corey Crawford is a year away from unrestricted free agency. Same situation Niemi was in at this time last year. While Crawford’s agent Gilles Lupien, as noted in the Francis article, indicates the two sides expect to negotiate a deal in the 2 to 4 year range, a lot can change in two months.
With the fate of the Philadelphia Flyers hanging yet again on questionable goaltending, there will be a lot of pressure on Flyers’ management to secure a proven commodity and Vokoun or Bryzgalov would benefit. The ‘market’ would also. While the other top UFA would likely get a good deal too, no matter where they ultimately sign. This would also potentially leave teams like the Coyotes, Panthers, Avalanche and Lightning looking for leading goalies.
And that’s where offer sheets could come into play. Now, there’s no doubt the Hawks would match any offer Crawford receives. Crawford isn’t going anywhere. The Blackhawks aren’t in the market for a $4-plus million dollar goaltender, they have no other options this time internally and Crawford is their man. The question, however, becomes at what cost? Stan Bowman scoffed at the possibility of offer sheets last summer. He was undoubtedly eye-balling Hjalmarsson for around $2M and was forced to scramble when the Sharks threw the $3.5M per year offer on the table.
Jimmy Howard’s recent extension, which kicks in next season, is the most easily and often referenced when determining Crawford’s value. Howard too toiled in the minors for awhile, four seasons, before arriving in the NHL and quickly finding himself in Detroit’s number one role. Howard’s new deal will pay him $4.5 million over the next two years. That cap hit, $2.25M, would fit the Blackhawks nicely if they can get Crawford to agree to it.
It’s difficult to compare last summer’s negotiations with Niemi to Crawford in a numbers sense. Niemi won the Stanley Cup and Crawford was eliminated in the opening round. One could argue, and that person would be correct, that Crawford’s individual performance in round one against Vancouver far exceeded Niemi’s last year against the Predators. So Niemi’s arbitration award of $2.75M would seem to be a bit far from Crawford’s reach. But that was last year and new deals for Neimi, Anderson and soon Bryzgalov could change the game.
Though younger than Crawford and more highly touted, Carey Price, 23, just completed the first year of a two-year deal that comes in at a $2.75M cap number. This was the contract Price signed with Montreal 32 days after the Niemi decision and months after the Canadiens dealt Jaroslav Halak to the Blues.
While it is easy to pinpoint Crawford for 2 years $2.25 to 2.5M, paste it on your cap chart and call it a day, it doesn’t work that way. Today’s 2.5 can be July’s 3.25. Crawford, as in the case of every player, is looking for the biggest deal he can grab. Jimmy Howard’s two-year $4.5M deal came a day before Niemi’s four-year $15.2M extension with San Jose. Perhaps draft weekend rolls around and Crawford’s agent looks at the Hawks’ offers and begins to wonder if a one year (then UFA next summer) or high-balling Bowman and hoping for offer sheets or baiting the Hawks into arbitration is a better option. After all, those options would be just days away.
It’s in Crawford’s best interest to wait. His number can only go up from this point. That’s a lesson we’ve learned already.
By waiting, putting the Crawford extension business off until just days before free agency, Stan Bowman is just complicating things for himself, his team and the plan, whatever that may be.
He has no leverage, and no conceivable fall back plan this time, so perhaps Bowman doesn’t want to appear too eager to lock his number one goalie down.
One thing’s for sure, he’d better know what he’s doing.
— There will be a Mike Keenan Celebrity Roast on Wednesday June 1st in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The master of ceremonies that night will be none other than Steve Ludzik and several other former NHL stars are slated to appear.
For those in the greater Toronto area interested in attending, tickets are $120 CAN per person. The event is from 6:30 – 9:30; attire business casual and dinner and drinks are included in the ticket price. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.
All proceeds from the event will go to benefit Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada Niagara Chapter.
BLACKHAWKS at IIHF WORLDS
Marian Hossa, Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger are each in Slovakia right now competing in the IIHF World Championships. Hossa for host country Slovakia, Frolik with the Czech Republic and Kruger for Sweden.
Having competed in three straight Stanley Cup Finals series (08-09-10) coming into this season, it’s probably fair to assume Hossa would have skipped the Worlds had it not been staged in his home country. The World Championships are a pretty big deal everywhere but in North America because hockey seasons have wrapped up in all other continents but here.
Hossa arrived at the tournament a bit late and missed Slovakia’s win over Slovenia. But Slovakia went on to drop both of the other preliminary round matches to Germany and Russia, both by 4-3 scores. Hossa’s lone point in the two games came on the third Slovakia goal against Germany, a late tally that put the host country within a goal of tying. Germany led that game 4-0 at one point. Slovakia did finish third in Group A and will advance, but no team has ever gone on to win the Gold Medal after losing twice in the preliminary round.
Michael Frolik has 2 goals and an assist in 2 games so far for the Czechs. He is teammates with former Hawks Michal Handzus and Martin Havlat.
Marcus Kruger is getting 6 minutes of ice time per game for Sweden. They’ll take on the United States to conclude the preliminary round in Group C. The U.S. team defeated Austria and Norway. The Swedes are in second-place coming into the game having defeated Austria, but lost their dramatic opener to Norway 5-4 in overtime on Saturday.
Former Blackhawks prospect Mathis Olimb, having just chosen to ditch North America and head back to the Swedish Elite League next season, is a top the scoring leaders in the tournament through three games. Olimb has a goal and five assists after a 1g, 4a game in a 5-0 defeat of Austria today.
Andrew Ladd (CAN), Tuomo Ruutu (FIN) and Jack Skille (U.S.) are also competing in the tournament.
— One-time Blackhawk defensemen Neil Wilkinson will be inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame on October 1st. Actually, Wilkinson will be one of three inductees that night who spent some time with the Blackhawks’ organization. Theo Fleury and former NHL defenseman Jay More, who played a handful of games with the Hawks in 1998, will also be among the honorees.
Wilkinson spent one season with the Hawks (93-94) and is perhaps best known for being on the wrong end of the Tony Granato stick-swinging incident. Wilkinson came to Chicago in the summer of 1993 in fulfilling the “Future Considerations” received from San Jose in the deal that sent Jimmy Waite (brother of current Hawks’ goaltending coach Stephane Waite) to the Sharks. Jimmy Waite actually just retired last year at the age of 40.
If anyone knows what Neil Wilkinson is up to these days or knows of a way to contact him, we’d like to know; a past friend of his has contacted us looking to get in touch with Neil.
Jay More was a stay at home physical defenseman who had a modest NHL career surfing around 6 NHL teams and 406 regular season games, 17 with the Blackhawks. More came to the Hawks with Chad Kilger in the deal that sent Keith Carney and Jim Cummins to Phoenix a few weeks prior to the 1998 NHL trade deadline. More wasn’t much of a fit in Chicago so he signed on with the Nashville Predators that summer to be a part of their inaugural season. More’s career was cut short at the age of 28 though when he suffered a career-ending head injury in a game against the Florida Panthers on December 10, 1998.
The bulk of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame are Manitoba natives. But they also honour Winnipeg Jets players, hence Bobby Hull’s place in their Hall. The MB HHOF is located in the MTS Centre, current home of the Manitoba Moose. While Theo Fleury was born in Saskatchewan, his family did relocate to Russell, Manitoba when he was five.
Other Blackhawks alumni in the Manitoba Hall include Billy Reay, Eric Nesterenko, Charlie Gardiner, Bill Mosienko, John Marks and Ed Belfour. Chuck Arnason, the father of Tyler, is also inducted as is VERSUS commentator and former NHL defenseman Brian Engblom.
— VERSUS, which will get a new name yet again this summer, had 1.16M viewers for Game 6 of the Hawks-Canucks series, its largest audience for a first round series in eight years. That game slightly beat last year’s Caps-Habs Game 7, 1.15M viewers. That despite having one team Canadian based and being blacked out in Chicago. Game 7 of VAN-CHI on Comcast SportsNet Chicago drew its largest audience of the series, an average of 467,000 households, peaking at 643,000.