General manager Stan Bowman said he had a “bit of an emotional” conversation with Crawford on Thursday.
“The message to Corey and to everyone else today is that we’ve decided that we’ve got some young goaltenders here in Chicago that we believe in,” Bowman said on a video conference call.
Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen, who are in line to share the net with Crawford gone, have a combined 18 games of NHL experience — all belonging to Delia. Bowman said the team is interested in re-signing Malcolm Subban after he was acquired in a February trade with Vegas.
Crawford, who turns 36 on Dec. 31, went 16-20 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average during the pandemic-shortened season. He started every game as Chicago eliminated Edmonton in the qualifying round before losing to the Golden Knights in the playoffs.
Crawford, a Montreal native, was selected by Chicago in the second round of the 2003 draft and made his debut with the Blackhawks in 2010. He helped the franchise to Stanley Cup titles in 2013 and 2015.
“Much like Corey needed that opportunity when he came up after the 2010 season — he had been with us for a few years, working his way up — we’ve got a couple young goalies here in Lankinen and Delia who we haven’t given a real big opportunity to,” Bowman said. “With where we’re headed, the NHL is relying more and more on young players. We’re going to embrace that moving forward.”
The Blackhawks missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons. They also would have missed out this year if the NHL hadn’t decided to go with a 24-team postseason format.
Whoever replaces Crawford in net jumps into a tough situation. Chicago allowed an NHL-high 35.1 shots per game this year, and rookie defensemen Ian Mitchell and Wyatt Kalynuk are expected to join the lineup next season.
But the move also creates more room to maneuver with the NHL’s flat $81.5 million salary cap. The Blackhawks extended qualifying offers to restricted free agents Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome, and Bowman left open the possibility of bringing back one of team’s non-tendered RFAs.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean these players won’t be coming back to the Blackhawks,” Bowman said. “I think, in particular, we’re hopeful that we can get Malcolm signed.”