New Jersey Devils: A Corey Crawford retirement would be a disaster

(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils have a newfound goaltending dilemma.

When the New Jersey Devils landed longtime Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, it felt like a dream come true.

After watching the slow but undeniable decline of all-timer Cory Schneider midway through a massive seven-year, $42 million deal, landing a two-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Jennings Trophy winner to put with franchise goalie in waiting MacKenzie Blackwood was better than anyone could have imagined.

And for his part, the Crow seemed all-in on being a Devil.

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From extensive talks about joining the club with his childhood hero, Martin Brodeur, to tricking out a mask with a Devils motif so wicked that even Deadspin got in on the action covering it, Crawford looked ready to continue on with his storied NHL career – even if he was a favorite to get Marc-Andre Fleury-d in the 2021 Expansion Draft.

That was the idea, at least.

However, since the opening of Devils camp on January 1st, that hasn’t been the case, as Crawford has been noticeably absent from the ice and facilities.

At first, some write this off as the new-New Jerseyite taking some time to adjust to his new scenery, which isn’t uncommon for veteran players adjusting to their first new team in well over a decade. Maybe Crawford was closing on a house, maybe it had to do with his kids, nothing too unusual. But as the season crept closer and closer, Crawford’s absence seemed less team sanctioned and more alarming. But not until quotes like this from long-time forward Travis Zajac started appearing did fans really start to worry.

Could Corey Crawford be… retiring? Is he… okay?

Now obviously, regardless of your allegiance, there’s not a hockey fan alive who wants any sort of harm to fall upon Crawford. Divorcing the man from the netminder, if there is anything wrong with Crawford -or anyone in his extended family – either physically or mentally, he should take whatever time he needs to get right, even if that means hanging up his skates forever.  Hockey is a demanding sport; take the time you need.

With that being said, this is a pretty crushing blow to the Devils even if their chances of making the playoffs were about as likely as the Atlantic freezing over.

Sure, they just signed Blackwood to a very team-friendly deal – arguably the best contract in the NHL in my humble opinion- but Crawford was expected to split the goaltending duties 50-50 maybe even earning the slight playing time nod based on his experience alone. With Crawford gone, Blackwood will have to take on a much more expansive role without a reliable veteran to fall back on, and potentially play 40-45 games in this abbreviated 56 game season.

It also undoubtedly would put the Devils in an unadventurous situation for games where Blackwood isn’t up, as the team only has one other goalie, Scott Wedgewood, on their roster with any real NHL experience. Will the team have to pull off a trade to bring in a veteran partner for Blackwood? Could they instead sift through the leftover seconds bin that is free agency and sign a player like… Jimmy Howard? Could 2017 fifth-round pick Gilles Senn suddenly find himself a massive part of the Devils fans despite having only two appearances to his name?

No matter how you slice it, the New Jersey Devils are not very well positioned to weather such a sudden, crushing blow.

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On a macro-level, who the New Jersey Devils opt to play in goal this season probably won’t have a massive impact on their overall record. Now a part of a brutally competitive Eastern Division that features most of the Metro plus the Boston Bruins and the Buffalo Sabres, the Devils will once again be duking it out for a spot near the top of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, hoping to land the next Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes. But signing Corey Crawford to a two-year, $7.8 million deal wasn’t really about wins and losses. No, his addition was to serve as a veteran mentor for MacKenzie Blackwood, to make it easier to evaluate young defensive prospects like Ty Smith/Kevin Bahl, and to improve the confidence of young forwards like Hischier, Hughes, and Jesper Bratt – if he ever signs – as they continue to develop their NHL games. Losing that will be a disaster.

UPDATE: Corey Crawford has officially retired.