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Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford rewarded with $8M contract

Blackhawk goalie Corey Crawford makes save first period shot by Canuck winger Jannik Hansen an NHL playoff game featuring Chicago

Blackhawk goalie Corey Crawford makes a save in the first period of a shot by Canuck winger Jannik Hansen in an NHL playoff game featuring the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks in game four; round one April 19, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 22, 2011 7:21PM

Three years is just fine with goalie Corey Crawford. To him, it’s still a pretty long time, and he’s thrilled that it will be spent in goal for the Blackhawks.

“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.”

Crawford, 26, proved he’s a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, taking over for veteran Marty Turco and becoming a stabilizing force when the Hawks were at their shakiest.

He also starred in the playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks.

“He earned the right to be our No. 1 goalie,” general manager Stan Bowman said of Crawford, who went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 goals-against average in his first full NHL season.

Avoiding what happened last summer with goalie Antti Niemi, whom the Hawks walked away from after a $2.75 million arbitration award, was essential. Bowman made it clear that signing Crawford was his top priority for the offseason, and the deal didn’t take long to finalize.

“I was confident all along that we were going to get Corey signed,” Bowman said. “He made it clear that he wanted to be a Blackhawk, and that means an awful lot to us. Obviously, we’re thrilled with the season he had and the future he brings for us in net. We finally have some stability in goal.”

Crawford’s cap hit isn’t much different than the arbitration award handed to Niemi, but this summer is much different than last year, when the Hawks underwent a salary-cap-mandated makeover.

Bowman has more money at his disposal. Bonus overages are coming off the books, and he doesn’t have three franchise players — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith — getting significant raises. Crawford had an $800,000 cap hit in 2010-11.

A second-round pick in 2003, Crawford spent five years in the American Hockey League, toiling away and biding his time as Nikolai Khabibulin, Cristobal Huet, Niemi and Turco were brought in. Now the Hawks have to decide who will back him up.

Bowman said he hasn’t had discussions with Turco, a free agent, regarding a role as Crawford’s backup, but he knows Turco still feels he can backstop a team on a full-time basis.

But Bowman is planning to have goalie Alexander Salak, who was part of the deal for Michael Frolik with the Florida Panthers, in North America next season after a solid year in the Swedish Elite League.

“The most important thing is we have our No. 1 guy, and we’re going to work off that,” Bowman said.

And that No. 1 guy still feels like he has something to prove.

“I’m going to try and get stronger [and] quicker,” Crawford said. “It’s a different mental approach going into [summer training], but, still, I have to prove to them I’m the guy. The work doesn’t end here. The work only gets harder.”

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