John McDonough on Corey Crawford and turning the page on ‘painful' season


The 2017-18 NHL season was one to forget in Chicago.

So many things went wrong for the Blackhawks, who missed out on the playoffs for the first time in a decade and finished in the basement of the Central Division one year after securing the No. 1 seed.

The Blackhawks have had time to reflect on all that. Maybe too much time.

“This year we tried to turn the page as quickly as we possibly could,” Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said Thursday following the 2019 Winter Classic press conference. “It wasn’t fun. When it was March and it was apparent that we weren’t going to make the playoffs, it was painful."

In fact, McDonough actually interrupted the reporter — me — to emphasize how quickly he wanted to move on from last season as opposed to dissecting why things went sideways. And rightfully so. It wasn’t fun for anybody, especially when the organization and city of Chicago experienced three Stanley Cups and five Conference Final appearances over the previous nine seasons.

"We’ve been dancing on the clouds for nine years and living in a pretty good place," McDonough said. "Maybe this was a wake-up call that needed to happen. Maybe this was sobering.

"So, internally, the message has been sent. We’ve discussed it at a regular basis. I have faith and confidence in all of these people. We’re in the results business. That’s where we are. And expectations from the day that Rocky [Wirtz] took over are very high, realistic expectations. The expectations for me this year is that this is a playoff team and put yourself in a position to make a run.”

This upcoming campaign is different. It's hard to remember the last time there was this much intrigue going into training camp.

More than anything, it’s a chance to rid the bad taste from their mouth and start with a clean slate.

“I have a good feeling,” McDonough said. “I have to be very positive, I have to be optimistic. It was a disappointing season last year. I recognize that. We are on it. We have addressed everything internally. We know our place in the city and where we are. We set the bar very, very high. This is a new chapter. Every single season is different and we look forward to teeing it up in October.”

Before October rolls around, there’s still a huge question mark surrounding Corey Crawford, who last played in an NHL game on Dec. 23, 2017 and has been sidelined since with a mysterious upper-body injury. McDonough said he's not exactly sure what Crawford's status is, but admitted, "I know he's been working out on a regular basis, so we'll find out shortly."

Training camp starts in eight days and the Blackhawks expect their starting goaltender to be there. 

“We do, we do," McDonough said. "We’re hoping that he’s ready for training camp and that starts in a few weeks and be ready to go when the season starts.”

Never have the Blackhawks needed Crawford more than this season. He masks a majority of their flaws and is good enough to keep his team in the playoff hunt when they aren't playing their best. 

The Blackhawks were one point out of the final wild-card spot before Crawford went down, but had two games in hand, meaning they were certainly right in the mix. That's encouraging if you're trying to find some positives, because that was essentially the beginning of their spiral.

But McDonough wouldn't use that as an excuse then, he isn't now and he won't going forward. The Blackhawks must rely on each other to bounce back, with or without No. 50 between the pipes.

“I don’t take any solace in that whatsoever," McDonough said of the Blackhawks being in the playoff picture when Crawford was healthy. "One of the things that gets overblown to me is they talk about our core players and they will name four or five or six guys. To me, every single guy on your roster is part of the core: the 13th forward, the 7th defenseman, or the backup goalie or the head coach or your assistant coach; every single one of them are part of the core. And I think we have to recognize that we’re going to need contributions from everybody.

"So it’s easy to point to four or five guys and say, ‘they didn’t get the job done, they need to be better;’ we need everybody to be better. I need to be better, Stan [Bowman] needs to be better, Joel [Quenneville] needs to be better.”

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