What does the future hold for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford?
Corey Crawford wasn't ready for the Blackhawks to go home Sunday night.
Wasn't ready for the season to end.
Wasn't ready for the inevitable questions about his future to come at him as often as those 49 Vegas shots did during the Hawks' 2-1 victory in Game 4.
So the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be did what he's done so often in the past, stealing a postseason game by swatting, deflecting, gloving and smothering 48 of those attempts.
With Game 5 being another do-or-die situation for Crawford and Co. on Tuesday night, this is a great time to ponder his future with the Blackhawks and in the NHL.
If he has one, that is.
Because let's be honest: No one should second-guess or begrudge Crawford if he elects to hang up his skates forever. The two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie has suffered two concussions over the past three seasons, contracted COVID-19 this summer, and has a wife and two young kids to think about.
That future is indeed bright.
If, on the other hand, Crawford wants to keep playing, he certainly reminded every general manager across the league that he still has what it takes to carry a team on his back when needed.
There are only so many teams looking for starting goaltenders, giving Crawford only so many landing places because he's not going anywhere to be a backup.
"Wherever it's going to be -- whether it's here or another team -- I'm not playing 30 games," he said as the trade deadline approached in February. "I don't think I'm as effective doing that. I feel like it's a waste of time."
The most logical place for Crawford to continue his career is in Chicago. After all, there's no other goalie on the roster or in the system who is ready to take over the No. 1 role.
But the Hawks are in a huge salary-cap pickle and will likely need to make at least a couple moves if they hope to extend an appetizing offer to their 36-year-old netminder.
GM Stan Bowman will be weighing Crawford's concussion history with his agent's contract demands.
Here was Bowman's response in February when I asked him if the concussions are a concern going forward: "If you look down on the ice, I would say most of these guys have had a concussion in their careers -- some of them this year -- and they're still playing. So there's no way to foretell what's going to happen to a guy's health.
"Right now, just happy that he's had a successful year. ... Up until (2017-18), he'd been a very healthy goalie, so it's not like he's been an injury-riddled guy. This year he's gotten through it.
"It's a factor. Is it a big factor? Not sure about that."
If Bowman feels it's worth the risk and the parties come to an agreement (perhaps on a one-year deal for $5 million?), then they would bring him back. If not, thank Crawford for an incredible run and move on.
One thing Bowman has always preached is he's not interested in tanking to get a better draft pick, meaning he's not going to leave the Hawks high and dry in net. He's trying to build a winning culture and does not want to send a message that losing is OK.
If Crawford's not the answer, then perhaps Bowman reaches out to Robin Lehner, who truly enjoyed his time in Chicago. Or perhaps he really likes the 6-foot-6, 206-pound Jacob Markstrom, who went 23-16-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average for Vancouver this season.
Or perhaps Bowman is willing to let Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia or Kevin Lankinen battle it out. (This seems extremely unlikely, however).
We'll find out soon enough.
In the meantime, appreciate what you saw between the pipes over the last decade: 260 regular-season victories and 52 more in the postseason that came thanks to a calm, cool approach that extended out from Crawford's blue paint and across the entire ice to all of his teammates.