NHL Network analyst: Long road ahead for Blackhawks goalie Crawford

 
 
Updated 7/30/2018 4:24 PM
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  • Blackhawks Corey Crawford greets the media on Friday at the Blackhawks Convention in Chicago after returning from missing half the season last year.

      Blackhawks Corey Crawford greets the media on Friday at the Blackhawks Convention in Chicago after returning from missing half the season last year. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

This story probably should come with a warning label for Blackhawks fans.

CAUTION: Proceed at your own risk.

That's because, in talking with NHL Network analyst and former goalie Kevin Weekes about Cam Ward for a story on Sunday, I also asked his opinion on Corey Crawford's situation.

And to say his answers were eye-opening would be an understatement.

First things first.

Weekes, who played for seven NHL teams from 1997-2009, said that "with no reservation" Corey Crawford is "the most important player on the Chicago Blackhawks, with all due respect to Patrick Kane."

No shock there. Many insiders believe the same.

After Weekes praised the Hawks for signing Ward to "stabilize their net," I asked if he's concerned that Crawford admitted he's not 100 percent.

Kevin Weekes
Kevin Weekes - Courtesy of NHL Network

"Sure there's concern," Weekes said. "I mean, nobody wants to play more than the athlete. You have to know that he tried to play through the injury. The fact that he got to the point where he felt he couldn't do that and he couldn't give the Hawks his best -- especially with him being their most important player -- that's very telling. …

"I would also say the fact that he came out and said … he doesn't feel 100 percent yet is actually refreshing. It gives Stan (Bowman) and coach (Joel Quenneville) an idea that, 'Hey, our guy's not right yet and he's being honest with us.' And from the fans and the media standpoint, maybe they realize that the nature of this injury is much more serious than everybody thought."

Crawford was emotional in his six-minute media session on Friday before the Blackhawks Convention, blinking back tears at the end.

"We're making small steps," Crawford said. "I'm getting a little better. It's a process. It's been a process since I left in December.

"Hasn't been easy. But I'll be back."

But will he be the Corey Crawford we remember? The one who was a serious Vezina Trophy candidate before going on injured reserve on Dec. 27? The one who helped the Hawks win two Stanley Cups? One of the top 10 goalies in the league?

Bowman and goaltending coach Jimmy Waite say yes.

As for Weekes? Well, he's not as sure.

"I mean he's got a long road ahead of him. You know and I know the NHL talent doesn't wait on anybody.

"Am I worried? I wouldn't say I'm worried.

"But I know him and Jimmy Waite certainly have their work cut out for them. And I'm sure they know that. They know it'll be a long road back, trying to regain his health, No. 1.

"But (also) his feel, his confidence, his situational awareness, his reads, his depth perception. Goalie is a very feel-intuitive (position).

"Goalie's a lot like golf. Good golfers golf a lot and they do that for a reason. They need to maintain that neurological connection and that kinesthetic feel and awareness.

"People don't know what it means to step into the net and be at United Center and face a one-timer from Dustin Byfuglien. People don't know the reality of that. …

"All of those things are going to take time. … The key for him is just to get right.

"And once he gets right, then he can start trying to tackle the mountain one step at a time and putting in all the work it takes to be Corey Crawford."

• Twitter @johndietzdh

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