Corey Crawford laughed. He actually laughed.
Really, what else can the Chicago Blackhawks goalie prospect do?
Asked if he's spending his summer waiting, hoping, praying for GM Dale Tallon to trade veteran Nikolai Khabibulin in order to free up room for him on the team's depth chart behind Cristobal Huet, Crawford cackled on the other side of the phone line.
"You know what, if I sit here and do that all summer I think I'd drive myself nuts until training camp," Crawford told NHL.com. "The best thing for me to do is take it day by day and focus on my training."
So that's what he's doing. The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.
As it stands now, Crawford, 23, is Chicago's third goalie and even a restricted free agent, but he said a deal is currently being worked on and neither side wants to part ways. Either way, Crawford appears headed for his fourth season in the AHL.
It's not what he envisioned when summer started, but reality has set in.
"It will be tough at first," Crawford said of going back to the AHL, "but if I have to go back to the American League I just have to find a way to motivate myself to keep working hard and keep pushing. I have come too far and have worked too hard that if it doesn't go my way this year it would be wrong to just not give the same effort."
2007-08 SEASON STATS
(10th West/20th NHL)
|Change from 2006-07||+17|
(9th West/15th NHL)
(11th West/23rd NHL)
"I talked to Dale and he still wants me to be their guy," Crawford said. "They're not giving up on me just because that deal (with Huet) happened. That's something they had to do. For me, personally, it's just a mater of time now.
"If he wasn't talking to me I think it would be a totally different situation," he added. "Him letting me know that they still want me, that they're still trying to find room for me, it gives me a little bit of extra motivation."
Crawford, though, is confident enough to say he's ready for a full-time NHL job right now. He feels as though he proved as much last season, albeit only in a small sampling of appearances.
In three starts for the Hawks, Crawford allowed only five goals while facing 97 shots. He blanked Anaheim, 3-0, on March 5, and six days later made 44 saves in a losing effort against Detroit. The next night he stopped 29 shots, but lost to Carolina, 3-0.
Crawford also had two relief appearances, and finished the season with a 2.14 goals against average and .929 save percentage, allowing eight goals against on 112 shots.
"Nothing has changed at all about him," Tallon told NHL.com. "I really think he's a heck of a goalie. We like his growth and the like the way he plays. He's had a good couple of solid years in a row. We have high hopes for him."
Crawford has made the most of his opportunity at the AHL level with Rockford. Since 2005, he has posted an 89-62-8 record with a 2.87 goals against average and .905 save percentage.
"I have been playing in the AHL for three pretty solid years," Crawford said. "It was a lot of games down there. I feel that I'm ready to move on and move up and get challenged up here."
Although he was admittedly "shocked" when he heard the Hawks signed Huet to a four-year contract on July 1, Crawford is doing his best to keep a positive attitude about the entire situation, which is probably why he can laugh about it.
"I'm 23-years-old," he said. "Everybody wants to make the NHL at 20 and play forever, but it doesn't always work out that way. Some guys have a longer road and you just have to keep plugging away and hope your opportunity comes earlier than later."
So, he's spending the summer in Montreal working out with some friends and a personal trainer. He was also in Chicago for the week of July 7-11, when the Blackhawks had their prospect development camp, working with the team's new strength and conditioning coach, Paul Goodman.
Once training camp rolls around in September, Crawford will again be afforded a chance to impress the Blackhawks' brass.
"We feel he can play some valuable minutes this year," Tallon said, "but he's going to have to battle for them."
Even if Huet wasn't on board, Crawford would have had to do that anyway.
"The goal stays the same," he said. "I have to come into camp and prove to them that I'm ready."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com