Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made re-signing goalie Corey Crawford his top priority of the off-season.
Bowman got it done Thursday in relatively quick order, signing Crawford to a three-year contract worth $8 million before the club's No. 1 goaltender became a restricted free agent on July 1.
Crawford, who won 33 games as a rookie while leading the Hawks to the playoffs, will have a cap hit of $2.6 million, which is the average of the three-year deal.
He will collect $3.25 million next season followed by salaries of $2.25 million in 2012-13 and $2.5 million in 2013-14.
“As the year went on, Corey emerged as our No. 1 guy,” Bowman said. “He earned the right to be our No. 1 goalie. You don't want to anoint people.
“Down the stretch, it became apparent as we were fighting to get into the playoffs he was carrying us every night.
“It's nice to have some stability. We've had a different No. 1 goalie year to year.”
Crawford will be the Hawks' fourth different No. 1 goalie to start a season when the puck drops in 2011-12, following Nikolai Khabibulin, Cristobal Huet and Marty Turco.
Crawford, who will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2013-14 season, was happy to get the three-year commitment after basically living season to season throughout his pro career.
“I'm very happy with three years,” Crawford said. “I don't know how much talk there was about adding more than that, but I'm more than happy. Three years is a pretty long time too.
“It means a lot to get it done early. Now I can focus on working out and getting ready for next year.”
After toiling for five years in the American Hockey League and coming to camp last September as Turco's backup, this will be Crawford's first summer knowing he is a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.
“I don't think it changes anything that much,” Crawford said. “I'm going to try to be in the best shape I can and get stronger and quicker. It might change your mental approach, but I still have got to prove that I'm the guy. The work only gets harder.”
With Crawford's signature on a new contract, Bowman now can focus his attention on what to do with his other key restricted free agents: Troy Brouwer, Chris Campoli, Michael Frolik, Jake Dowell and Viktor Stalberg.
Bowman wasn't about to reveal his plans for his restricted free agents or if he planned to attempt to re-sign unrestricted free agents Turco, Tomas Kopecky, Ryan Johnson, Fernando Pisani or Jordan Hendry.
It's likely the Hawks will let Turco, Kopecky, Pisani and Hendry test the free agent market. Johnson would appear to be a strong candidate to be re-signed provided the price is right. He was paid $600,000 last season.
Counting Crawford's new deal, Bowman and the Hawks have $53.7 million in committed salaries for 15 players for next season.
The NHL's salary cap presently sits as $59.4 million with various reports suggesting it will go up to approximately $62.2 million.
“We'll know in about a month what it will be,” Bowman said. “We'll see how it shakes out in terms of the final number, but we're in a better situation this summer because we've got the bonus money (for Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane) coming off the books, which was not helping us last year.
“We're still going to make changes like I indicated before, not wholesale changes, but we need to have some new faces in the lineup and we need to give the opportunity for young players to also get in the lineup. I'm confident that when we get together in October we'll have a very strong team.”
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