NOVEMBER 16, 2017 | 4:20PM ET
By Tab Bamford, The Fourth Period

CRAWFORD IN THE VEZINA DISCUSSION?

 
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Corey Crawford, goaltender

 
 

CHICAGO, IL -- It’s about time we talk about Corey Crawford. 

Around the League. 

For most of his career, Crawford has been excused from the elite goaltender conversation because of the team skating in front of him. When you have annual Selke finalist Jonathan Toews at center and future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith leading your team, it’s easy to say the goaltender gets a lot of help. 

But that isn’t the case this season. And, frankly, it hasn’t been for some time. 

Between the 2013-14 and 2016-17 seasons, Crawford ranked among the top goaltenders in the NHL, but nobody ever wanted to include him in the conversation. 

Over those four seasons, Crawford ranked third in the NHL with 131 wins; he trailed only Braden Holtby (154) and Tuukka Rask (138). Holtby (250) and Rask (257) appeared in more games than Crawford (229), however. 

But because wins are obviously the best stat by which to judge a goaltenders performance, we’ll dig in further. 

Over those four seasons, Crawford’s .921 save percentage was tied with Holtby, Rask and Sergei Bobrovsky for fourth in the NHL among goaltenders who appeared in at least 100 games. Only Carey Price (.928), Cam Talbot and John Gibson (.922) were better. 

And over those seasons, Crawford has as many shutouts -- 13 -- as Pekka Rinne. 

Yet, over those four seasons, Crawford received a total of 13 votes for the Vezina Trophy (10 in 2016 and three in 2015). 

If the excuse for Crawford not receiving votes in the past was the team in front of him, that logic should make him the runaway front-runner for the Vezina so far this season. 

As this new season began, the Blackhawks are down to two defensemen from the core group that won three Cups: Keith and Brent Seabrook. Niklas Hjalmarsson is now in Arizona, and his theoretical replacement -- Connor Murphy -- has struggled to adapt to the systems in Chicago. He’s skating bottom pair minutes and has been a healthy scratch on multiple occasions. 

Seabrook has slowed down (considerably) and Joel Quenneville continues to search for the right mix with four new faces on his blueline. Cody Franson has been spending time with Keith recently, and import Jan Rutta has been a pleasant surprise. But the chemistry just isn’t there yet, and it’s been obvious who is carrying the load to start the season for the Blackhawks. 

Corey Crawford. 

Of course Sunday night’s debacle in Chicago – in which Crawford took the hit for six goals in two periods – don’t help his individual numbers. But the team wrapped around his overall work to date this season indicates the Blackhawks are struggling to keep their head above water if not for their goaltending. 

Through Monday, the Blackhawks offense rank 13th in the NHL averaging 2.94 goals per game, a number that went up after scoring nine goals over the weekend in Carolina and against New Jersey. However, 15 of Chicago’s 53 goals were scored in their opening two games. And their powerplay is abysmal, ranking 27th in the league (14.3 percent) entering Tuesday’s action.

The Blackhawks have scored only 18 even strength goals in their last ten games and have a 4-6-0 record. Two of those four victories were back-to-back shutouts by Crawford. 

Chicago is allowing 34 shots on net per game, the fourth-highest total in the NHL. Their inability to score 5-on-5 has been amplified by the volume of shots getting to Crawford. But he’s been excellent all season, keeping the Blackhawks at least afloat until the offense wakes up. 

He might not be the first name that comes to mind for Vezina voters, but he should be at/near the top of the list this year. It’s time we wake up to the reality: Corey Crawford is elite. 

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Tab Bamford is the Chicago Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow him on Twitter.