This evening, the New Jersey Devils announced their first signing of the 2020 free agency period. The team announced that they have signed goaltender Corey Crawford to a two-season contract worth a total of $7.8 million. The now-former Blackhawk will make $3.6 million this season and $4.2 million next season. This means his cap hit is $3.9 million. As Cory Schneider cleared unconditional waivers to be bought out, the Devils needed to sign a goaltender. This is their man.
The Free Agent Frenzy today was filled with oddities such as Wayne Simmonds receiving a no-movement clause for his one-season contract with Toronto and Tampa Bay waiving Tyler Johnson. However, there was not a lot of activity throughout the day for skaters. The goaltender market was quite active. Henrik Lundqvist, who was bought out by Our Hated Rivals, signed a one-season deal with Washington. Cam Talbot, formerly of Calgary, signed an $11 million deal over three seasons with Minnesota. Braden Holtby, formerly of Washington, signed a two-season contract with Vancouver worth $8.6 million. Calgary went in hard for Jakob Markstrom, formerly of Vancouver, and signed him to a massive six-season deal worth $36 million. (Aside: I think Calgary will regret that one.) Anton Khudobin was an unrestricted free agent but he opted to stay with Dallas and signed a three-season contract worth $11 million with them. As the Devils bought out Schneider and have no real prospect ready for the NHL in the system, they needed a goalie. Rather than risk seeing more veteran goaltenders sign elsewhere and be left behind, New Jersey took care of their biggest need at around 11 PM ET today. The Devils have their goaltender.
In terms of contracts only, the Crawford contract is in the same ball park as the Holtby, Khudobin, and Talbot deals we saw earlier today. The term is as short as Holtby’s and the money is not outrageously large. It is not ideal that the 35-year old Crawford was signed in that the Devils cannot bury the cap hit if things go awry with him. However, it is not that big of a deal. The two-season term is short, he could act as “expansion protection” for Mackenzie Blackwood, and the Devils still have a massive amount of cap space. Even with this signing, New Jersey is still currently below the cap floor by about $445,000 per CapFriendly. They will definitely meet it with another free agent signing - whether it is from re-signing one of their qualified restricted free agents or signing someone from outside the organization.
I am pleased to state that Crawford is coming off a really good 2019-20 season with Chicago. Per Natural Stat Trick, he made 40 appearances, posted a 92.6% save percentage in 5-on-5 situations (same as Blackwood), a Goals Saved Above Average of 7.92 in 5-on-5 situations (11th best in the NHL even without filtering for games played), and a high-danger save percentage of 86.4% (only Allen, Rask, Blackwood, and Binnington were better). Crawford was not as impressive in penalty killing situations with only a save percentage of 85.2% and a GSAA of -2.1. However, that did not deter the Chicago from achieving a top-ten success rate on penalty kills last season. Goaltending performances can be volatile, but last season is a good season as any to bet on. His 5-on-5 stats were that good last season.
Further, Crawford has a history of performing quite well in even strength situations (which is mostly 5-on-5 play). Per NHL.com, Crawford put up an even strength save percentage of at least 93% in four of his ten seasons in Chicago and at least 92% in another four. His worst season was in 2010-11 when he put up a 91.5% at evens and 90.3% overall. Yet Chicago was rather good in all other areas so they managed to win a lot of games in spite of a not so good season from Crawford. Crawford bounced back and has been a very good goalie for the better part of the last decade. Father Time always wins and I am concerned about Crawford’s performances declining given he is 35 years old. Yet, Crawford has demonstrated that he had plenty left in the tank last season in a career filled with very good performances. Among the available goaltenders left on the market, that is not a bad player to choose even given his advanced age.
What made the choice of which free agent to go after a bit trickier is the situation with Blackwood. I am under the impression that he will be the primary goaltender in New Jersey. I hope that Fitzgerald made that clear to whomever the Devils were negotiating with. Crawford has recent experience with that as well, as he shared the crease with Robin Lehner last season with Chicago until Lehner was dealt to Las Vegas back in February. As far as I know, there was no concern about it there - although it probably helped that Crawford still got to play in 40 games as Lehner was injured for part of last season. In New Jersey, Blackwood and Crawford can share the crease as a 1A/1B situation like Crawford had in Chicago. Should Blackwood get hurt or perform poorly, the Devils have someone more than capable to fill in to keep the team competitive in the short-term. And it is not someone who will just take the net from Blackwood.
I still expect that the organization treats Blackwood as the goalie of the present and future. My hope is that Blackwood is fully capable of taking on the heavy load by himself in the following season and someone is able to step up in Crawford’s place. Whether that is Gilles Senn, Akira Schmid, Nico Daws, or a goalie to be named later is unknown right now. In the interim, the team needed to sign someone who can handle the responsibilities and understand his role on the team. Crawford was not just one of the remaining goaltenders on the market who met those criteria, he was a good choice all on his own given his recent performances and his career as a whole. The amount he is signed for will not hinder the Devils at all should they want to sign or acquire anyone else in the next few days. I think this is a good signing by the Devils. I like it quite a bit. As always, I hope it works out for all involved.
Now that you know my take on this signing, I want to know what you think. What is your reaction to the Devils signing Corey Crawford? Did you know he performed well last season? Do you think he will be a good fit in a tandem with Blackwood? How fearful are you of a potential decline in Crawford’s abilities? What do you think the Devils should focus on next in free agency? Will the Devils’ next acquisition or signing take place during a morning or afternoon instead of after 9 PM ET? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this signing in the comments. Thank you for reading.