CROW PUTS PLAY­ING TIME ABOVE SALARY

Free agent-to-be will pri­or­i­tize play­ing time ahead of salary in talks with Bowman

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BEN POPE bpope@suntimes.com | @BenPopeCST

Corey Craw­ford hasn’t held his end-of-year meet­ing with Black­hawks gen­eral man­ager Stan Bowman yet, and he said it might take more than one meet­ing to iron out his fu­ture.

But it’s clear Craw­ford’s heart re­mains in Chicago.

The Hawks’ long­time goalie, a pend­ing un­re­stricted free agent, opened up Tues­day about his thought process en­ter­ing the off­sea­son.

“I would like to be back,” Craw­ford said. “We still have a lot of great pieces on this team. To win an­other [Stan­ley] Cup in Chicago would be un­be­liev­able.”

At 35, with a his­tory of con­cus­sions and com­ing off an­other tur­bu­lent sea­son health­wise — he re­cov­ered from COVID-19 just in time to play in the Au­gust play­offs — Craw­ford said “short term may be bet­ter” for his next con­tract.

But he added he would con­sider a longer con­tract — “three or four years” — if that’s what the Hawks pre­fer.

Most im­por­tant, he clar­i­fied that play­ing time will trump salary among his pri­or­i­ties.

“I don’t know where our cap is,” Craw­ford said. “We have a bunch of guys we need to sign. That’s some­thing that we’ll dis­cuss in our meet­ings with Stan. But def­i­nitely I’m lean­ing to­ward stay­ing in Chicago.

“I don’t want to play half the games and sit on the bench for stretches at a time. My value is just not as good do­ing that. I’m way more valu­able play­ing games and play­ing con­sis­tently. It re­ally de­pends on how much I’m go­ing to be used. Salary, that can be dis­cussed. That’s some­thing that is not as im­por­tant at this time.”

Play­ing time was a source of ten­sion dur­ing the eight months the Hawks em­ployed Craw­ford and Robin Lehner.

Lehner com­plained af­ter be­ing traded to the Golden Knights in Fe­bru­ary about the Hawks’ un­will­ing­ness to let him take over the No. 1 job de­spite his ex­cel­lent play. Craw­ford talked at length Tues­day about how much he also val­ues play­ing “a ton.”

Hear­ing Craw­ford — who made $6 mil­lion an­nu­ally on his ex­pir­ing con­tract — val­ues play­ing time above salary surely will be mu­sic to Bowman’s ears.

The Hawks’ salary-cap sit­u­a­tion is tight, with lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity and a long list of free agents to try to re-sign — Craw­ford, Do­minik Kuba­lik, Dy­lan Strome, Drake Cag­giula, Slater Koekkoek and backup goalie Mal­colm Sub­ban.

Tellingly, Craw­ford’s tone and us­age of

“IT RE­ALLY DE­PENDS ON HOW MUCH I’M GO­ING TO BE USED. SALARY, THAT CAN BE DIS­CUSSED. THAT’S SOME­THING THAT IS NOT AS IM­POR­TANT AT THIS TIME.” COREY CRAW­FORD, Black­hawks goalie

“we” in­di­cated he still sees him­self as part of the team. A light­hearted mo­ment when one of his young sons barged into the Zoom in­ter­view high­lighted an­other fac­tor: With a grow­ing fam­ily set­tled in Chicago, sta­bil­ity also mat­ters.

Craw­ford said his first of po­ten­tially sev­eral meet­ings with Bowman is sched­uled for this week. Craw­ford’s agent, Gilles Lupien, pre­sum­ably will be­come in­volved at some point, too.

It won’t be a quick process, though. The of­fi­cial Oc­to­ber start date of free agency re­mains un­clear, and while that won’t af­fect Craw­ford if he re-signs with the Hawks (he could do so any­time), it will af­fect other Hawks moves that sub­se­quently will af­fect Craw­ford.

“I don’t know how much is go­ing to get done right away,” he said. “I as­sume things will hap­pen closer to next sea­son. So it’s go­ing to be a wait­ing game.”

But the wait won’t change his de­sire to stay.

“We’ll see how those dis­cus­sions go,” he said. “But stay­ing in Chicago and try­ing to win again, that’s [pri­or­ity] No. 1.”

JEFF VIN­NICK/GETTY IM­AGES

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