May 042011

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.



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.

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  11 Responses to “Crawford talks at Draft; Mike Keenan Roast, Hossa at Worlds”

  1. Seems like Crawford AND Salak (if he is the target as backup) are gaining leverage in this scenario. No on has a gun to Salak’s head to come over to N.A. He’s a starter in the SEL. He’d play maybe 20 games here. Chances are he will see this as his opportunity to play in the NHL, but negotiations are ALL ABOUT leverage. Money talks. Good blog, Chris.

    • I love how some people watch a youtube reel of Salak highlights and immediately pencil him in for the backup job next year. Heck, you could put a Marty Turco highlight package from this year together that would make you believe he’s the second coming of Ken Dryden. If he’s good enough, great. But how about we make him come in and prove it first. These are the Chicago Blackhawks. They’re supposed to be an elite organization in all of sports now. Handing important roster spots to guys who haven’t done anything to earn that spot doesn’t fit the profile.

  2. Chris great look at the crawford situation. I’d like to think Stan learned from the niemi fiasco last summer which of course was linked to hjalmarsson. But seeing that there doesn’t seem to be any worry on either side, I think the frame work of an agreement might already be in place.

    • Hey Craig,

      That could be. But if they’re that close on a deal, why not make it official then? Until then, either side can back out or the agent can pull a power play. The thing I didn’t address above was the Hawks propensity to heave the money truck at their RFA’s when the cap allows them to. We can go round and round about leverage and using the RFA status to the club’s advantage to keep salaries down, but the system hasn’t worked the way it was intended to. So forget about that. Its also likely the Hawks are putting 3 years and 9 to 11 million, or Niemi numbers on the table. If that’s the case, then a signature probably is a formality. But if you take Crawford’s agent’s word as gold; that the Hawks have yet to, but intend to present three different offers and not until draft weekend, I’d be more than a little concerned that the agent could drag this out. Crawford doesn’t owe the Hawks anything and he holds all the leverage. Keep in mind, he was more than a little disgruntled two years ago when Niemi got the call instead of him. The Hawks do have a little more wiggle room under the cap this summer, but not that much. Seabrook’s new deal and whatever Crawford gets will likely make up what was this year’s penalty, then you have the extra two million to keep Brouwer and Frolik. If Stan is cornered into paying Crawford 500k or 750k more than he figured, well, the difference is a player. That’s why this negotiation is so important. Crawford is the guy. He’s not going anywhere. You want to lock your number one down, but you must avoid overpaying if you can. They’ve overpaid enough.

  3. Why is it assumed that Bowman is the one putting off these negotiations? Is it not more likely that Crawford’s agent is the one stalling, and for the very reason you state in your article, to gain leverage in the negotiations? He (Crawford’s agent) surely see’s the situation the Hawks are in with no viable alternative to Crawford as their #1 next season, save signing one of the other UFA’s that will be on the market, and likely for more $$ than Crawford will cost them even if he gets the most favorable deal possible. After all, Crawford’s agent doesn’t have to come to the negotiating table right now just because Bowman wants him to.

    • 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.”

      Yes, for all of the reasons noted in the story, Crawford has no need to rush this. And it does take two to tango, but the concern posed by myself, and now many, is for the lack of urgency from the Blackhawks’ perspective.

      Granted, we are basing a lot on one side of the story. But I’m not going to be successful in attempt to get Stan’s version myself, so that’ll be up to someone who does have that capability. Still, taking Lupien’s word, and I don’t know what he would stand to gain from lying, the Blackhawks, at the very least, would seem to be amenable to the timeline based on Lupien’s comments to Eric Francis.

      I do suspect a possibility Lupien taking the negotiations public could change things. If he says nothing to Francis or any other reporters and the two sides hammer a deal out with no hiccups at the draft, then no one was the wiser. But with their draft plans now public knowledge, Lupien, whether he intended to or not, could be drawing the Hawks to the table sooner than planned.

  4. If Bowman is in fact the one dragging his feet on this and Lupien’s intent in going public is to get the Hawks to negotiate sooner (as you suppose in your last paragraph) then I’d like to send him a big fat thank you note. I can’t even begin to imagine what Bowman’s thinking would be in dragging this out until late June.
    That’s why I’d like to think that Bowman wanted to get to negotiating sooner rather than later and it was Lupien that wanted to delay things hoping to gain an advantage. I’m not sure if this is a reasonable supposition since I don’t know what changes might occur between now and late June that would benefit Lupien’s negotiating position.

    • First off, there’s a contract freeze from June 15 – 30th. So even if Bowman offers Crawford deals at the draft, Crawford can’t officially agree to anything until July 1st.

      Next, RFA’s can talk to ANY team starting June 28th. So before Crawford can put ink to paper on Bowman’s offer, he’ll have plenty of time to talk to any team he wants.

      Also, retirements, trades opening up spots on other teams, summer training injuries, owner getting restless and lighting a fire under his GM’s ass. A lot can happen.

      Again, I don’t think the Hawks will lose Crawford, but its a question of whether or not they’ll put them into a situation, similar to the Hjalmarsson offer sheet, where they’re suddenly paying a goaltender more than they want, or get themselves tied to him for a longer term than they feel is right. Offer sheets arent written fair and at market price. They’re designed to ‘win’ the player, over-market, so the sitting team won’t match. That’s how the Hawks find themselves with a $3.5M fifth defenseman. At least the way he played this past season.

  5. Crawford had a great season, don’t get me wrong. But I always insisted that he would never be an NHL player. The reason being I never saw anything in Rockford that suggested he would be. One major flaw, that he still has, is getting caught unaware often. He seems to let it slip by when he receives an unexpected shot. Some teams even tried to exploit this. I just really never saw anything in the AHL that really impressed me.

    I want them to resign Crawford, I think he was great this year, but I really hope they don’t sign him four years for big money. A two year contract would give him a good chance to establish himself and prove that that this really is the new Crawford. If it is, I have to say that I haven’t seen many players improve so quickly. Crawford isn’t a young guy, he is 26 (I believe).

    • I had all the same observations on Crawford watching him for four years in Rockford and Norfolk. I know they’ve always liked him. For real, not in a they ‘have to say that’ way. But they had to be disappointed in him going into to 09-10, not winning that job decisively. After all, they gave him guaranteed NHL money (750k) to play in Rockford that year. When he and Niemi were the tandem in Rockford, neither really stood above the other overall. Niemi had a great start in 08-09, but got lit up in Chicago in December if you remember and it took him until the end of the season to recover from that. Crawford was pretty good consistently that year if you throw out that crappy March, where Niemi got his game back. Then when push came to shove, Crawford was their starter in the playoffs.

      Goalies in general take the longest to develop. Yeah, you’d think they’d come around before 26… but then again… look at Tim Thomas. You should also take into consideration that Crawford really got screwed and felt it going into the 08-09 season. He was designed to get the back up job then, but the Hawks signed Huet and plans to send Khabibulin to LA or Russia fell through. Small sample size, but every time he came up he looked good. I still believe had he not been put in position to fail in that last exhibition game in North America in 2009, when the Hawks iced the Ice Hogs to play the Washington Capital opening night roster essentially in DC (Crawford got smoked for six), things could’ve worked out differently. Everyone likes to think Niemi stayed because of the waiver status, but had he been the one in net in DC, got torched for six, I doubt anyone would’ve claimed him off waivers. Until shutting out the Panthers in Finland, Niemi was pretty pedestrian.

    • But to respond to your note on signing Crawford:

      I wouldn’t give him any more than three years myself. There are probably only a handful of goalies I would, and Crawford certainly hasn’t earned that yet. Two is probably most desirable, but that could mean paying him a little more per year.

      But ideology doesn’t fit into contract negotiations. Crawford will get what the market dictates. Its like with everyone’s favorite contract – Brian Campbell – Did the Hawks really want to give him all that guaranteed money and years? Probably not. Sure, they’d have liked to secure him for less, but they needed the player and the market dictated the cost. Hard times when you don’t develop enough from within.

      I’m having a hard time putting the pieces together on Crawford’s contract negotiations. Maybe Stan Bowman has already heard Crawford’s agents expectations and is hesitant to go that route (big years, big $) and is leaning towards taking his chances with arbitration? That wouldn’t make much sense either. Crawford would elect for a one-year award and turn UFA next summer. And the Hawks would then be in the market for one since its highly unlikely Richards will be that guy. I just struggle to understand why the Hawks aren’t planning to even table offers to Crawford until June 24th. They can’t get ink on paper until July 1st in that case anyhow. And Crawford is free to talk to any team he wants on June 28th. So before Crawford can officially agree to anything Bowman offers him, he’ll already know if there’s an offer sheet waiting for him on July 1. IF Bowman has a trio of offers he believes are fair and can get the job done, what the heck is waiting for? Mystifying.

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