Blackhawks, Crawford agree to six-year extension

It has been such a great summer for Corey Crawford that he could hardly be blamed if he didn’t want it to end.

Crawford began the day he earned celebrating with the Stanley Cup in his hometown by agreeing to a six-year contract extension Monday with the Chicago Blackhawks. The deal, which begins when his current pact expires after the 2013-14 season, is reportedly worth $36 million.

“Obviously being able to have a chance to bring the Cup back home and all the people that I went through minor hockey with and grew up with and all my family was pretty special to start off with, and to add this on top of it is amazing,” Crawford said. “I want to be in Chicago for my whole career and this is amazing to be able to do this and get this deal done.”

Crawford began the 2012-13 with people outside the organization questioning his viability as a No. 1 goalie for a contending team and finished it with a superlative performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs en route to winning a championship.

The 28-year-old Crawford went 19-5-5 for the Blackhawks during the regular season with a .926 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average, and then got even better during the playoffs. He posted a .932 save percentage and a 1.84 GAA as Chicago claimed the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons.

“The reality is we need to have a top-notch goaltender in our organization and we’ve got one in Corey and we know him well. He’s grown up with our organization, and he’s been to the ultimate with our group,” Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said.

When the Blackhawks won their first championship in 49 years in 2010, starting goaltender Antti Niemi was one of several casualties of the club being close to the salary cap ceiling, and it allowed Crawford the chance to become the No. 1 guy.

He had a strong rookie season, particularly near the end as the defending champs squeezed into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. After a .917 save percentage and 2.30 GAA as a rookie, he slipped in his sophomore campaign.

“There was never a question in our mind, but we wanted to commit to him because it’s the most important position.” Bowman said. “We have a lot of faith in his ability to continue. He’s a young goalie and he’s certainly worked hard to get himself to the NHL and proven he can do it at the highest level.”

Crawford still had a 30-17-7 record, but also a .903 save percentage and 2.72 GAA, and the Blackhawks bowed out in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season. He responded with a very good regular season, and a fantastic postseason in 2012-13, and is now the undisputed No. 1 goalie in the Windy City.

He’s also a candidate to make the Canadian team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Crawford spent a few days last week in Calgary with the other Olympic hopefuls at Canada’s orientation camp.”That was pretty special for myself. I hadn’t been able to do that yet for Team Canada in my career,” Crawford said. “That was pretty cool to be able to go there, even though we didn’t go on the ice, just to be a part of it was definitely another step in my career.”

For Bowman and the Blackhawks, they can add Crawford to the growing list of core players on the roster with long-term contracts. There are six players — Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickel, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Crawford — under contract for at least the next three seasons.

Niklas Hjalmarsson is the only key figure from the 2013 title team that will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will need new contracts the following summer.

“We’ll figure it out as time goes on,” Bowman said. “A lot changes year to year. We don’t have the knowledge of where the cap will be in two years or three years but the one thing we do know is we’re going to have a great goaltender. That is why this was an easy decision for us.”

For Crawford, he had the opportunity to spend Labor Day, the unofficial last day of Summer, with the Cup and celebrating his new contract. He also recently got engaged, and spent the aforementioned time at Canada’s Olympic camp.

“It’s just been getting better and better. I’m on a bit of a high right now,” Crawford said. “Hopefully I don’t come down from it. It’s been amazing. The last couple of months have been great.

“It was fun to win last year, and have a fun summer with it. I’ll have my Cup day today and do all that, but at one point you’re just going to have to shut it off and do it all over again. I think we’re prepared to go at it again.”

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