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He technically retires as a member of the New Jersey Devils, but Corey Crawford will always be remembered as a star with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 36-year-old won two Stanley Cups with the Hawks and spent 10 years in the NHL with the team before signing with New Jersey in the off-season, but he’ll never play a game in anything but a Chicago jersey now.

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The reasons behind Crawford’s retirement are not specifically known and while he released a statement upon announcing the news, the netminder is not making any further comments at this time. What is known is that Crawford tried to make a go of it this season with the Devils, but ultimately decided it was time to hang up his blocker.

“I wanted to continue my career, but believe I’ve given all I can to the game of hockey,” he said. “I would like to thank the New Jersey Devils organization for understanding and supporting my decision. I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for giving me the chance to live my childhood dream.”

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Crawford has battled with injuries the past few seasons and concussions have been the primary culprit. Given all we know about brain injuries, it’s understandable that someone who has gone through the wars with concussions would not want to take any more chances, particularly since he is a family man.

The key part of Crawford’s statement to me is the reference to giving hockey all he could. No one can dispute this: the life of a pro hockey player is grand, to be sure, but it’s also a grind. Last season’s playoff bubble magnified that grind even further, isolating players completely from their loved ones. Chicago may not have spent a long time in the bubble, but the Hawks were still there.

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New Jersey Devils goaltender Corey Crawford, after taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team Friday for personal reasons, announced his retirement on Saturday.

“I have been fortunate to have had a long career playing professional hockey for a living. I wanted to continue my career, but believe I’ve given all I can to the game of hockey, and I have decided that it is time to retire,” Crawford said in a statement issued Saturday. “I would like to thank the New Jersey Devils organization for understanding and supporting my decision.

“I would like to thank the Chicago Blackhawks organization for giving me the chance to live my childhood dream. I am proud to have been part of winning two Stanley Cups in Chicago. Thank you to all of my teammates and coaches throughout the years. Also, thank you to the fans who make this great game what it is. I am happy and excited to move on to the next chapter of my life with my family.”

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The 36-year-old Crawford, who signed a two-year deal with the Devils this past offseason at an average annual value of $3.9 million, had not practiced since training camp opened last week. His absences were first described as “maintenance days” by coach Lindy Ruff, before the team said he was taking personal days on Wednesday and Thursday.

He had been the Blackhawks’ starting goaltender since 2010-11 — and helped them to two Stanley Cup championships — but the team decided not to re-sign him this offseason.

Crawford ended his Blackhawks career ranked third in franchise history with 260 career wins, trailing only Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall. Crawford is the Blackhawks’ franchise leader in postseason wins (52) and is the only goalie in team history with multiple Stanley Cups.

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“Corey has an unforgettable place within our organization, in our fans’ hearts and in Chicago sports history,” the Blackhawks said in a statement. “We congratulate Corey on a Hall of Fame-worthy playing career — one we celebrate with him today as a member of the Blackhawks family forevermore. ‘Crow’ is not only one of the greatest goaltenders in Chicago Blackhawks franchise history but was also a pillar in our local community throughout his entire career.”

Crawford put in 10 solid years in the NHL, but he also spent five seasons before that as a pro, mainly in the AHL with Rockford, plus the occasional start with Chicago. So yes, he’s put in his due. And truly, he put as much – if not more – into the game as he got in return.

In terms of legacy, Crawford retires as one of the best goalies in Chicago’s history, right up there with Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall. That’s heady company, but neither of those Hall of Famers have as many Cups as Crawford (though he’s the only of the three never to win a Vezina, having to settle for two Jennings trophies).

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Is he a Hall of Famer? Probably not, since on his own dynasty Hawks teams, he’s likely behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. In terms of goaltending peers from this era, he’s behind Carey Price, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist – plus Martin Brodeur has already been inducted.

But Chicago should seriously consider retiring his No. 50 if they haven’t planned on it already. Crawford was the backbone of an incredibly good team during the Hawks’ finest era ever. Even at the end of his career, Crawford was excellent in turning aside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers in an upset series win in the Return to Play bubble.

As for the New Jersey Devils, the timing of this obviously isn’t ideal, but the organization has options. Mackenzie Blackwood was very good last year and in a 56-game season, he should be able to carry much of the load. New Jersey could still add a veteran to help Blackwood out, with options such as Jimmy Howard already on the market. This was still going to be a rebuilding year in New Jersey anyhow, though it would have been nice to have Crawford on board.

Nonetheless, ‘Crow’ has made his choice and it’s important to respect it. He was a winner, he was a battler and his legacy is clear.

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Sharangovich was tremendous while on loan in the KHL, where he totaled 17 goals and 25 points in 34 games. Kuokkanen has three seasons of AHL experience and looks ready for a shot at a regular NHL role. While Boqvist primarily played left wing last season, he’s looked much more comfortable at center during camp. It may be a line of three rookies, but their performance as a unit during the scrimmages suggests they might offer the Devils some depth to start the season.

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The fourth line, at least out of the gate, should have some familiar faces. Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha are likely to begin there, but there’s still one spot to fill alongside them. Nathan Bastian looks to be in the running for that opening, as does Michael McLeod, which would give the Devils some size and scoring punch on the fourth line.

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All of this will change when Hischier and Bratt return, though. It’ll be interesting to see where everyone fits when that happens, especially if the Sharangovich, Boqvist, and Kuokkanen line clicks during game action. That could give Ruff some difficult decisions to make in the bottom half of the lineup, but that’s not a bad problem to have.

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Defense
The Devils’ defense will have a mixture of new and old faces after a few offseason moves. They acquired Ryan Murray from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for a fifth-round pick. Despite having chronic lower back problems, Murray has been an effective top-four defenseman when in the lineup. If he can stay healthy, he’ll give the team a significant boost on their top pair.

Also joining Murray is Dmitry Kulikov, who the Devils signed during free agency to a one-year deal worth $1.15 million. Kulikov isn’t going to have the significant role Murray will, but he should provide the team with some defensive depth as their no. 6 or 7 defenseman.

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In a somewhat surprising move, the New Jersey Devils have brought back defenseman Sami Vatanen on a one year contract worth $2 million for the season. Vatanen will need to quarantine and arrive in New Jersey before he can participate in team activities. His timetable to join the team and be ready for games is yet to be determined. Vatanen brings a familiar presence on the backend that does nothing but strengthens the depth of the Devils blueline.

The Devils originally acquired Vatanen from the Anaheim Ducks for fan favorite Adam Henrique, en route to the first playoff appearance since the run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. The Devils then traded Vatanen almost one year ago to the Carolina Hurricanes for Janne Kuokkanen, Frederick Claesson, and a 2020 3rd-round draft pick that became Nico Daws. Kuokkanen looks to be a lock for the opening night roster and could make a major impact on the Devils. Claesson is still a free agent and Dawes waits in limbo for the OHL season to start.

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Vatanen did not play a game in the regular season for the Hurricanes last season due to an injury, which added to the drama of the conditional draft pick acquired by the Devils. He did play seven games in the playoffs, accumulating three assists in those games.

An NHL ready player and a 3rd-round pick is a steep price for only seven playoff games in hindsight for the Hurricanes. This only adds to the legend of good moves that Tom Fitzgerald has done so far in his tenure.

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The move does throw some confusion to the roster though, as it was thought the Devils already had their blueline set up with the assumption Ty Smith would make the team. Right now, if Ty Smith makes the team, the Devils would have 8 NHL caliber defenseman on the roster. PK Subban, Damon Severson, Connor Carrick, and Vatanen would be on the right side. Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Dimitry Kulikov, and Smith on the left. It is yet to be seen how the Devils roster will shake up over the course of the season while the question of how the taxi squad will be used remains.

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In all, this is a good move for the Devils to bring back Vatanen. He was seemed to be well liked by his teammates and he is capable of being a player the Devils could really use. He can work the powerplay as well as the penalty kill. The only question is, can he stay healthy? Like Murray, if health isn’t an issue, both players are top four quality defensemen. If they aren’t healthy, the Devils will be back to square one and more questions than answers. But all in all, bringing Sami back is a smart decision.

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Ryan Murray Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Returning for his second stint with the Devils is Sami Vatanen, who signed a one-year deal worth $2 million less than a week ago. Like Bratt, he needs a work visa then has to quarantine for seven days before joining the team. So he’s likely to miss their first couple of games, at a minimum.

In addition to those three defensemen, the Devils return Damon Severson, Will Butcher, P.K. Subban, and Connor Carrick. Subban looks like he’ll start the season paired with Murray, while top prospect Ty Smith looks as if he’ll play alongside Severson on the second pair. Once Vatanen is eligible to play, the Devils’ defense pairs should look something like this:

Murray – Subban
Smith – Severson
Butcher – Vatanen
Kulikov – Carrick (extras)
No one will mistake the Devils’ blue line as the best in the NHL. With that said, it’s a pretty capable group. Subban had the worst season of his career in 2019-20, so giving him top-pair minutes won’t work if he doesn’t rebound to some degree. Though, it does help that Murray is the best defenseman Subban will play with since becoming a Devil.

Smith looked terrific during the Devils’ camp scrimmages, and he appears ready for the NHL. Severson was the team’s best defenseman in 2019-20, so Smith looks to be walking into a favorable situation to start his NHL career.

Once Vatanen is eligible to play, he and Butcher should give the Devils a reliable third pair. Butcher is one of the team’s more effective puck-moving blueliners, and he’s put up good numbers paired with Vatanen over the last three seasons. Vatanen should also get some meaningful minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.

New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen
New Jersey Devils Sami Vatanen (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
And with Kulikov and Carrick as the team’s seventh and eighth defensemen, that makes the Devils’ defense one of their better position groups.

Goaltending
Goaltending looked like it was going to be a strength heading into this season. But it’s now the Devils’ biggest question mark after Crawford announced his retirement. Crawford had a .917 save percentage (SV%) last season and would’ve been a significant upgrade as a 1B to Blackwood.

Now the Devils are left scrambling to find a backup to Blackwood with just two days before the regular season begins. Scott Wedgewood is the de facto no. 2 goaltender with Crawford retiring, but he hasn’t played in an NHL game since 2017-18. His recent AHL numbers aren’t all that encouraging either – he had a .893 SV% last season and .908 SV% in 2018-19.

If the Devils want to be competitive this season, they need to find a veteran backup behind Blackwood. They could look to the trade market, but it might be a challenge finding a willing trade partner since teams must carry a goalie on their taxi squad.

The Devils’ best bet seems to be scouring the waiver wire and hoping someone useful ends up on waivers. One team to watch is the Toronto Maple Leafs. If Jack Campbell wins the backup job to Frederik Andersen, as expected, the Leafs could place Aaron Dell on waivers with the intent of sending him to their taxi squad.

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Two good goalies are better than one for the New Jersey Devils in 2020-21.
After waiting nine-plus months to watch a meaningful game of New Jersey Devils hockey, the 2020-21 season is right around the corner – and needless to say, it’s going to be weird.

The fans will be… sitting at home. The Prudential Center will be (essentially) empty, and the Devils will be playing their smallest slate of games since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Factor in an all but guaranteed division realignment to accommodate for the closed Canadian border and an abbreviated schedule that could feature less time between games, and it’s safe to say any team with even a small hope of contention will need to have their goaltending plans on lock.

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Well, fortunately, the Devils suddenly find themselves with not one, but two of the more intriguing netminders in the Metropolitan Division.

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After sticking it out with a rapidly developing MacKenzie Blackwood and a clearly diminished Cory Schneider, New Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald signed two-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford away from the Chicago Blackhawks on a two-year, $7.8 million deal.

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While Schneider will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Devils fans for his impressive string of seasons in the mid-2010s, it’s hard to describe just how much of an upgrade Crow is over a player who finished out the 2019-20 season in Binghamton.
Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun unveiled what realigned divisions will look like for the shortened 2020-21 season. For the Devils, they’ll have the usual suspects from the Metropolitan Division — the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders.

But they’ll also have two new division “rivals” in the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres, meaning the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets won’t be division foes. The Devils will play all 56 games within the division to reduce travel and risk of exposure to COVID-19. So they won’t be seeing the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets during the regular season.

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On the surface, this is a pretty tough division for the Devils. Every team other than them and the Sabres were part of the league’s 24-team, return-to-play format in the summer. A look at point projections from Jack Fraser (you may know him as @JFreshHockey on Twitter) has the Devils finishing with 57 points, second to last in the East Division and just ahead of the Sabres.

Though the Devils only project to finish with 57 points (an 84-point pace in an 82 game season), there’s not a significant gap between them and the Flyers. The Devils upgraded their goaltending significantly when they signed Corey Crawford to a two-year deal in free agency. If he and Mackenzie Blackwood produce exactly as they did last season, the Devils should be competitive. Combine that with steps forward from Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, and the Devils could surprise some. But there’s no doubt the team has a tall task ahead of them in a stacked division.

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Measuring in at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Crawford has the seventh-highest saves percentage of any active player in the NHL (91.8) and has the rare distinction of winning the Jennings Trophy twice – in 2013 and again in 2015.

Though he’s certainly seen his average number of games played drop over the past few seasons, going from roughly 53 from 2013-17 to roughly 35 in each of the past three seasons, Crawford is clearly still one of the better ‘name brand’ goalies in the league even if he’s more of a platoon player than an unquestioned number one.

In 2019-20, Blackwood appeared in seven more games with four more starts than Crawford with the Blackhawks, but is that the plan moving forward? Did Crawford sign what may be his final substantive contract extension to play second-fiddle to a 24-year-old goaltender with ‘long-term starter’ written all over him, or is there a world where the Crow makes Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman look silly for explicitly passing on giving the 13-year vet another contract?

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Well, fortunately, we may not have to have that conversation right now; not in the first half of 2021 at least.

Again, the 2020-21 season is going to be weird. The Devils will presumably be playing four-five games a week and may need to rely on a legit 50/50 goalie split. While the team will surely need to pick a number one goalie for the sake of consistency, there’s no reason to believe the team couldn’t roll with Crawford for a few games and then switch over to Blackwood and then back to Crawford the following week.

On paper, both players have their own merits. Crawford is a stable vet with 12,500 saves to his name. Playing him in net against more offensive-minded teams could help the Devils steal a few more wins and better evaluate the talents of developing defensemen like Ryan Murray, Connor Carrick, and Dmitry Kulikov. And as for Blackwood? Well, he’s the future. After impressing down the stretch last spring, Blackwood deserves a chance to prove one way or another what his ceiling is as a member of the Devils, and if he’s the kind of player who can fill out a defense alongside prospects like Kevin Bahl, Ty Smith, and Nolan Foote moving forward.

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In a perfect world, a team would have one elite goalie they can rely on for 60-plus games a season and a decent enough backup to keep them competitive when the top guy is out. Crawford was that guy for much of the 2010s, and, fingers crossed, Blackwood will follow suit in the 2020s. However, in 2020-21, having two very good guys may be more useful than one elite goaltender, especially if the season is only 56 games long.

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After playing his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks, I highly doubt Corey Crawford ever expected to wear another team’s jersey in an NHL game. Had the team that drafted him prioritized loyalty as much as he did, he likely wouldn’t have, but fortunately for fans in the Garden State, that wasn’t the case. By signing with the New Jersey Devils – after a long talk with his childhood idol Martin Brodeur, which you can read here – Crawford accepted a position in a platoon and an opportunity to pass his knowledge along to MacKenzie Blackwood over the next few seasons. While either player could conceivably outplay the other and full take on a true number one role, the Devils’ best chance to win would be running a true two-goalie system where each player can play off the other. If the 2020-21 season is going to be weird, why not embrace it?