Bowman, Quenneville remain confident that Corey Crawford will return strong to the Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 17: Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) defends the goal during a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild on December 17, 2017, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Last year he stood up at the podium, visibly and vocally angry about the Blackhawks’ quick exit from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Could you blame Stan Bowman?

After all, the team was the top seed in the Western Conference and was swept away by the Nashville Predators. In a departure from the previous eight seasons, the Blackhawks were a step slow and a bit lethargic in four-straight losses.

Bowman vowed change for the following season, but it didn’t come. Instead the team slipped below .500 and out of the playoffs entirely for the 2017-2018 season.

Yet the General Manager was much more subdued with his remarks during the 2018 end-of-season news conference at the United Center Monday. Perhaps there wasn’t as much shock considering the team’s chances for the playoffs were slim as early as February.

One of the reasons that Bowman might have come to grips with it was the loss of perhaps his best player – goalie Corey Crawford. An upper body injury, which reportedly was vertigo early in 2018, knocked him out before Christmas and he never returned.

While he admits it didn’t have everything to do with the team’s slide, it was his loss along with Marian Hossa before the season that proved too much to overcome.

“It’s a difficult thing to recover from both of those,” said Bowman of the loss of Crawford and Hossa.

While he wasn’t as optimistic about a return for the forward, Bowman was quite confident that the goalie will return to form when he returns healthy for the 2018-2019 season.

“So I would expect his performance to be where certainly he was last year, for sure. I don’t see any reason to doubt that,” said Bowman of Crawford. “He’s got a lot of confidence. The last couple of seasons he’s played a bigger role on our team and we’re looking for that next year.”

It seems that Crawford would do so in his 11th season with the franchise, posting a 16-9-2 record with a pair of shutouts up till December 23rd. That night he allowed three goals in 13 minutes against the Devils in New Jersey and was immediately pulled, never returning to a game for the rest of the season.

Crawford briefly practiced with the Blackhawks in February but wasn’t spotted on the ice at all the final month of the season.

The vague descriptions of the goalie’s injury raised concerns about his future availability with the team. Bowman spent part of Monday expressing his optimism for Crawford’s return based on his progress over the past few seasons.

“We have expectations that he’s going to be the same goalie that he’s been. I think if you look back at the last three-to-four seasons, Corey’s been getting better every year,” said Bowman. “You look back at where he was in 2013, there’s no way we win the Stanley Cup that year or in 2015. He just seems to be getting better every year to where you can see his value to our team right now.”

That’s obvious.

The Blackhawks could never find a backup goaltender that had success this season, using Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass, J.F. Berube, Collin Delia as starters at one point during the year. No one truly stepped up to embrace the role, which left the Blackhawks out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

“You could just see how the way things went this year how valuable he really is,” said head coach Joel Quenneville of Crawford. “He’s on the right track, he’s close to being ready to go, several more months now to prepare for the season, and now knowing that ingredient to our team is certainly a big piece to our success and our team as well.

“We look forward to being in place and ‘Crow’ ready to be apart of it.”

Maybe then these news conference will be much later in Spring in 2019.