Yesterday, the New Jersey Devils announced that goaltender Corey Crawford took an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. Today, that leave of absence was made permanent. Corey Crawford announced his retirement this afternoon. Here is the short statement he has provided to the Devils through the team’s website:
“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. 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.”
Crawford indeed had a long and successful NHL career. Above all else in this post, we at All About the Jersey wish him the best in retirement.
The hope was that he would continue that career for two more seasons in New Jersey. His performances last year were very good. Enough to be excited about the Devils having a potentially strong goaltending tandem of Mackenzie Blackwood and Crawford. I was looking forward to it ever since he signed back in October, which I thought was a very good one. Such a pairing would be critical to keep a young, developing, and re-building Devils team competitive in what could be a very difficult East Division in 2021. Crawford signing also granted future protection for Blackwood for the Seattle expansion draft as well as take up some of the massive amount of cap space the Devils have (and still do). That hope was turned off today. While he did attend camp at the start of it, head coach Lindy Ruff knew this was a possibility at the start as reported by The Athletic’s Corey Masisak.
In terms of the salary cap, Corey Crawford was 35 when he signed his two-season contract. However, as Corey Masisak figured out and CapFriendly confirmed on Twitter, there were some adjustments made to the 35+ contract rules and as a result, this retirement will not carry any kind of penalty on the Devils’ cap. In other words, Crawford’s contract should be off of the books. Not that the Devils needed to clear $3.9 million as they went into today with just under $8.7 million in cap space - more than enough to sign, say, Jesper Bratt.
The cap space may help the Devils if they want to swing a deal or pick up a goaltender from waivers or free agency. The Devils should really consider looking outside of the organization for a #2 goaltender to be behind Blackwood. As a result of this retirement announcement, the Devils’ goaltending depth chart is Blackwood as the definite starter, a toss up between Scott Wedgewood and Gilles Senn - neither who have been particularly impressive in the AHL last season, and a total non-factor in Evan Cormier. As of now, the first three names will be on the team; the only question is whether Wedgewood or Senn will be the backup goaltender. Neither were particularly great last season, so this is an issue. One of the reasons why the Crawford signing was so good was that the Devils had a reliable #1B option in case Blackwood faltered or gets hurt. Now, the goaltending is going to be heavily reliant on Blackwood short of getting someone new.
With camp ending in a few days and the regular season starting on Thursday, there is not a lot of time for the Devils to bring in someone new. We could see Wedgewood or Senn as the team’s backup on January 14. That would not be so bad to start, but it is an issue that will come up when Blackwood needs a break or, worse, gets hurt. The Devils may not be expected to be a playoff team even with a Blackwood-Crawford tandem, but the goal for 2021 is to show some kind of improvement for the future. Having a more capable goaltender could still help keep the Devils competitive instead of hoping Senn or Wedgewood plays decently enough in a few games.
In terms of the waiver wire, the pickings are expected to be slim. But there should be goaltenders available as all teams must have a goaltender on their taxi squad. Today, goaltenders Kasimir Kaskisuo and Michael Hutchinson were placed on waivers by Nashville and Toronto, respectively. Hutchinson is not at all a better option than Senn or Wedgewood. Kaskisuo may be more viable if only because his 90.9% save percentage in 27 games with the Marlies last season was better than both Senn’s and Wedgewood’s save percentages. But it may only be a marginal improvement. The team can wait to see if someone more tantalizing is placed on waivers in the next few days. But time is short on that.
A trade could bring in someone much better than what would be on the waiver wire. The issue with that is that it would come at a cost of something and every one in the league knows the Devils need a goaltender. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald will have to be careful to not get pulled over a barrel on a potential goaltender trade. Until someone is decided to be the #2 goalie in New Jersey, expect to see the Devils linked with every trade rumor involving a goaltender. And do not expect those trade rumors to actually mean anything as most of them are just that: rumors.
The solace that one can take from this is that if the Devils figured on this retirement being a real possibility about a week ago, then they had at least a little time to make some preparations to address the team’s goaltending situation. We shall know in a few days what they will do for at least the start of this regular season.
All the same, I understand that Crawford’s retirement may be related to what caused him to take a leave of absence. As his reasons are personal, I will not speculate as to what they may be. We just wish him the best in dealing with them and moving on from being a NHL goaltender.