Blackhawks’ early free agent moves come as a surprise to the veterans

Blackhawks

EDMONTON, ALBERTA – AUGUST 18: Goaltender Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks reacts after the Vegas Golden Knights score a goal by Mark Stone #61 (not pictured) during the second period of Game Five of the Western Conference First Round of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff at Rogers Place on August 18, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – It’s been a very unusual start to the Blackhawks’ free agency period this fall, and it’s one that involves the team not going for a championship.

Not re-signing Corey Crawford and trading Brandon Saad are two moves that are indicative of a rebuild instead of a pursuit of the postseason as the team has done for the past decade. It’s signals the nearing end of an incredible run for the franchise that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010, but has fallen on hard times recently.

Yet some of those who played a key part don’t appear ready to let it get away so fast.

In an interview with Mark Lazerus of The Athletic on Sunday, captain Jonathan Toews said the moves “come as a shock” to him since he’d not been told about any plans to rebuild. He also described the departure of Crawford as “sad.”

It’s safe to say that the goaltender felt the same way about the franchise’s decision not to bring him back, which he expressed after signing a two-year, $3.9 million contract on Friday.

When meeting with New Jersey and Chicago media on Saturday, Crawford expressed his own sadness at the fact that his long run with the Blackhawks had come to an end. He was taken in the second round by the team in 2003 and was with the franchise the entire time.

Crawford took over the starting job in net midway through the 2010-2011 season and retained it till this summer. He had 52 playoff victories and helped the team to a pair of Stanley Cup titles in 2013 and 2015.

“Obviously I was pretty devastated to get the news about not returning to Chicago,” said Crawford. “That’s all I’ve known for my whole career since being drafted in 2003. They just wanted to go a different way.”

It’s one that was surprising to many since Crawford remained strong in net during the team’s nine postseason games, especially in the first round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Golden Knights. In what would turn out to be his final postseason win, Crawford made 46 saves in Game 4, including 11 in the third period, to keep the Blackhawks from being eliminated.

“It’s a tough phone call, but they wanted to go that direction. For me, it was pretty heart-felt, pretty emotional after that, talking to some players and, obviously, my family and stuff,” said Crawford. “It’s time to move on.”

Perhaps a bit sooner than some would like or were even expecting.

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