The Chicago Blackhawks and Corey Crawford agreed Thursday on a three-year contract after a standout rookie season in which he emerged as their top goalie.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
General manager Stan Bowman said signing Crawford was the top priority for a team that lost Antti Niemi a year ago after he led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. They signed veteran Marty Turco to a one-year deal last offseason, but it was the 26-year-old Crawford who ultimately established himself as their top goalie.
"I think for us, it was pretty clear as the year went on and Corey emerged as our go-to guy, that he earned the right to be our No. 1 goalie," Bowman said on a conference call. "That's the way you always want it. You don't want to anoint people. You want to let them do the work for you, and I think if you watched the way Corey played — he didn't play a lot in the beginning and once he was given the opportunity, he earned more time in the net. And he ended up being a very important part of our team."
As for Turco? Bowman said he still wants to play.
Asked if there was any scenario where he could see the veteran re-signing or if Turco had told him he wants to start somewhere, Bowman said: "We didn't get into that with Marty. We just kind of went over the year, and he was a great Blackhawk for us this year."
Crawford settled in while the Blackhawks struggled to find consistency, barely making the playoffs before losing to Vancouver in seven games in the opening round.
He went 33-18-6 and led rookie goalies in wins while tying for the lead with four shutouts. He was eighth among all goalies with a 2.30 goals-against average during the regular season.
In the playoffs, that average was 2.21 with a .927 save percentage.
"I wanted to be a part of the Blackhawks, and I think the management, too, and everyone there wanted me back," Crawford said. "It's great to get it done early. Now, I can just focus on workouts and getting prepared for next season."
The three years, he said, is "more than fine."
"I'm so excited to get back there and start next season," he added. "I'm really happy with three years, and I think that's pretty long, too."
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, can turn their attention toward other areas such as trying to retain other restricted free agents such as Troy Brouwer, Chris Campoli, Michael Frolik, Jake Dowell and Viktor Stalberg.
Salary cap issues last summer forced them to jettison 10 players who played roles in their championship, and it took awhile for the team to mesh.
A slow start was one reason the Blackhawks ended up just making the playoffs on the final day, when Minnesota's win over Dallas gave Chicago the eighth seed.
Bowman said they'll be in a better situation, cap-wise, this summer.
"We've got a good idea of where the cap will be," he said. "We're still going to make some changes like I indicated before — not wholesale changes. But we need to have some new faces in the lineup. We need to give the opportunity for young players to also get into the lineup. There's a few different ways it can go. I'm confident that when we get going next October that we'll have a very strong team."