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Signing Corey Crawford should be first on list for Hawks

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman made it clear that his offseason starts with one thing: locking in goalie Corey Crawford to a long-term deal.

“He’s earned the right to be a
No. 1 goalie for us, and our team loves playing in front of him,” Bowman said Thursday at the United Center. “He loves to be in Chicago. He’s said that many times, and he’s clearly a priority for us.”

Crawford has arbitration rights like Antti Niemi did a year ago. But Bowman doesn’t feel it will reach that point with Crawford.

“He wants to sign more than just a one-year contract,” Bowman said. “We’re in the same boat. There’s still negotiating to be done, but I’m very optimistic that’s going to work itself out.”

But there is much to be done to improve a team that again will have high expectations.

With that said, here are some of the highlights from Bowman’s final meeting with the media before he starts maneuvering for 2011-12.

On the young players stepping up:

“Now that you can reflect back on it, that’s the exciting part of what we have here. . . . [Nick Leddy, Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger] really showed what’s going to be next year’s team. Our core group is going to be back, but I think there’s more comfort knowing some of those roles are going to be filled by the players that stepped up.”

Whether Niklas Hjalmarsson needs to do more because of his lucrative contract:

“He was rock solid for us, which is what we had expected. It’s really hard to get players that are young like Niklas who are able to play against top players and do it effectively. We’ve got a lot of guys who can contribute offensively. That’s probably one of the strengths of our defensive group, so not everybody has to put up points. There’s value in the style that he plays.”

Regarding any moves Bowman wished he didn’t make last year:

“I don’t think you look at it that way. I was very pleased with the emergence of a lot of our young players and a lot of our new players. If you take it off the top, Viktor Stalberg came in, and he’d never really been a regular NHL player. . . . Michael Frolik, we really saw him emerge over the last couple weeks; he’s going to be an excellent player for us for a number of years.”

On how this offseason differs from last:

“Fortunately, we’re not in the crunch that we were in a year ago. We still have decisions to make. There’s going to be some changes; you’re not going to bring the same group back. We need to bring a few new faces in. Some players will move along, and some young players will come up.”

On Patrick Sharp’s contract, which expires after 2011-12:

“He’s a guy we certainly want to keep around, and I suspect it’s going to be like it was with those other guys — which is, you know, you start the negotiations, and hopefully it doesn’t carry on too long.”

On whether John Scott can be an every-day player:

“The next step is to try to enhance his skill set so that we can get him more ice time. . . . Going forward, we’d like to try to enhance his game. I think the physical factor and whether it’s intimidation or the comfort level of our other players, they certainly sense that, and they like having him on their side.”

On whether the Hawks’ “core” will change:

“These guys have been excellent players on the ice, off the ice. They’re guys you believe in. . . . I’m very comfortable with the core guys that we have here. Not only are they great players on the ice, but they’ve got that desire and that heart.”

On restricted free agents Troy Browuer and Chris Campoli:

“[Brouwer] showed some versatility. I would’ve liked to see a little more production. I’m sure he would’ve as well, but sometimes those things come and go. He was still an effective player for us. . . . It was almost like [Campoli] fit right in with the system we play here. He gave us a lot of important minutes down the stretch when we really needed that. It was a critical time of the year, and he stepped up.”

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