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Blackhawks Learn From Antti Niemi Mistake, Extend Goaltender Cory Crawford

Last offseason was a necessary quagmire of trades, signings and releasing by the Blackhawks. They built a team around young budding stars on affordable contracts. Well, after winning the Stanley Cup, a players gotta get paid, son (link NSFW -- a whole lot of swears). Chicago gave huge contracts to core players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, to name a few, but were really put in the salary cap vice when re-signing Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Short on money, the Blackhawks did something that I though was impossible, they released the goalie that led them to the promise land, Antti Niemi. A goaltender short, the front office scurried to find a replacement to take over as netminder. They signed Marty Turco. It seemed like desperate move -- replacing an up-and-coming young goaltender with a 34-year-old, whose goals against average (GAA) over the two previous seasons was closer to three than two -- but passable considering how cash strapped the defending champs were.

Unfortunately, Turco played up to his age, repping a 3.02 GAA and a sub-.900 save percentage. Cue our protagonist. Turco was replaced for good as a starter on February 12th by Corey Crawford.

The 26-year-old played to the tune of a 33-18-6 record and a 2.30 GAA -- good for 8th in the NHL -- carrying the Blackhawks to the playoffs, despite their best efforts to the contrary. With the Niemi debacle in mind, the Blackhawks extended Crawford to a 3-year deal worth $8MM on Thursday.

"It’s great to get it done early," Crawford said Thursday of his three-year, $8 million contract that carries an annual $2.67 million cap hit.

"We’re very happy with three years. I don’t know how much talk there was to have more than that. I think, for now, that’s more than fine. I’m so excited to get back there and start next season."

With their goaltending situation taken care of for the foreseeable future, the Blackhawks can now focus on the June 24-25th NHL Draft. Chicago picks 18th overall.

Twitter @ZWMartin