For the last two seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks had a young starting goaltender who was a restricted free agent; one who wanted to be a Blackhawk and that the Blackhawks wanted back.
The main difference between Antti Niemi(notes) in 2010 and Corey Crawford(notes) in 2011 is an economic one: The Blackhawks didn't meet Niemi's contract terms and then walked away from a $2.75 million arbitration award in August after a summer of tumultuous roster turnover.
This time, GM Stan Bowman locked up his keeper early. Crawford agreed to a 3-year, $8 million deal announced on Thursday. Crawford gets $3.25 million, $2.25 million, and then $2.5 million in the final year, via ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. (Terms via ESPN Chicago.)
"Corey wanted to be a Blackhawk, and we wanted him back," said Bowman. "The agent was very reasonable throughout."
Added Bowman: "I was confident all along that we were going to get Corey signed."
Crawford, 26, earned the starting job during the regular season as a rookie, starting 55 games and going 33-18-6. He led all rookies in wins and was second to Cory Schneider(notes) with a 2.30 GAA. Crawford had four shutouts in the regular season.
In the playoffs, there's no question he established himself as a big game keeper for Chicago: 2.21 GAA, .927 save percentage and a shutout during the Blackhawks' 7-game loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
"It's great to get it done early," said Crawford. "I can just focus on workouts, getting prepared for next season."
His $2.67 million cap hit puts him below what Niemi would have made and above the $2.25 million hit for Jimmy Howard(notes) of the Detroit Red Wings, who signed his extension in February. (And, of course, well below the $5.625 hit Cristobal Huet(notes) would still carry in the NHL had the Blackhawks not made him go "poof.")
Detroit went two years with Howard. The Blackhawks went three with Crawford. Bowman was happy to have that kind of consistency between the pipes.
"We've been working on this, making sure this was done," he said. "It's our most important position, and we wanted to get some stability there. We had a number of different No. 1s year to year. It's nice to know we don't have to go through that."