Corey Crawford had one of his boyhood idols on the phone pitching him on why the New Jersey Devils were the right fit.
He couldn’t say no to Martin Brodeur.
“I talked to him for a while, a few times,” Crawford said. “Pretty much he was laying out their plan and why they wanted to come and get me. I mean, that was all I needed, just the confidence and how much they really wanted me.”
Crawford agreed to terms on a two-year, $7.8 million contract with the Devils on Friday, ending his 13-season career with the Chicago Blackhawks. The 35-year-old will start a new chapter wearing the same uniform that Brodeur wore for almost his entire Hall of Fame career.
Brodeur is now an executive vice president in the Devils’ hockey operations department.
Crawford said he used to have posters of Brodeur on his bedroom wall as a kid growing up in the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay, Quebec, about 25 miles from Saint-Leonard, where Brodeur grew up.
“To be able to talk to him was pretty cool, just chat about the city and team and the direction they’re headed,” Crawford said. “I thought that was awesome, that I was able to do that. That definitely played a part.”
Crawford never expected to leave Chicago. He thought the Blackhawks would re-sign him and he would finish his career with the same team that selected him in the second round (No. 52) of the 2003 NHL Draft, the only team he has ever played for, the one he helped win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015.
But the Blackhawks went in another direction. Crawford said they never even negotiated with him after offering him a one-year contract before the free agent market opened Friday.
“I was pretty devastated to get the news about not returning to Chicago,” Crawford said. “That’s all I’ve known for my whole career after being drafted in 2003. … It turned into excitement and Jersey was very interested. I talked to them the most.”
Brodeur said the Devils didn’t think they would even have a chance to talk to Crawford in the days leading up to the market opening Friday because they also thought he’d re-sign with the Blackhawks.
“I have a relationship with his agent, Gilles Lupien, who used to be my agent when I was younger. So right away I called him, two minutes after free agency opened, and I asked, ‘Is he really serious about going somewhere else?'” Brodeur said. “We started to talk.”
He then got on the phone with Crawford and started to tell him the story of when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2012 and the Blackhawks were one of the teams he talked to before re-signing with New Jersey.
“They offered me the exact same money as the Devils and they wanted me to be a mentor to Corey Crawford,” Brodeur said. “I decided to stay in New Jersey, obviously, and that’s the year he won his first Stanley Cup. I said, ‘I could have messed it up for you.’ “
Brodeur said he could sense Crawford’s excitement as the conversation continued.
“The change of scenery — I’ve done it at the end of my career, and he was really hesitant about that when I was talking to him,” Brodeur said. “So I was kind of walking him through this next chapter of his career and you could tell the first 10 minutes of the conversation was way different than the last 10 minutes of the conversation as far as the excitement level of what he could do.
“It’s a new chapter in his career. He seems really excited, real nervous. He even said, ‘I’m a little nervous about this,’ but I told him that’s normal.”
Brodeur said the Devils wanted Crawford because they needed more stability in net, a veteran they trust to pair with 23-year-old Mackenzie Blackwood, who went 22-14-8 with a 2.77 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and three shutouts last season.
He said they targeted Crawford because of his experience and knowledge, but also because of how good he was last season, particularly in high-shot games.
Crawford was 7-7-1 with a .923 save percentage last season in games when he faced at least 35 shots. Overall, he was 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and one shutout in 40 appearances (39 starts). He has a career record of 260-162-53 with a 2.45 GAA, .918 save percentage and 26 shutouts, and he’s 52-42 with a 2.38 GAA, .918 save percentage and five shutouts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I don’t mean to be mean when I say it, but I’m sure he’s going to face that [high-shot volume] in New Jersey once or twice,” Brodeur said. “It gives us flexibility in net with Blackwood and him to be able to grow our young players, make mistakes and not have to pay the price every single time. … We don’t know if we’re going to make the playoffs or what’s going to happen, but we want to give us the best chance and we figure with a top goalie like Corey he’s going to give us the best chance alongside Blackwood to be in every game and hopefully challenge to get into the playoffs and grow.”