Corey Crawford was missing from New Jersey Devils practice for a fourth straight day Thursday and questions about his future were raised by teammates.
The 36-year-old goalie participated in the first two days of camp on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 but needed a maintenance day the next two days before missing the past two practice days for personal reasons.
“We need to give him his space,” Devils forward Travis Zajac said. “Obviously, no one knows himself better than he does, so obviously we want him to be part of this team, but I think going forward, he’s got to make that decision. I think he can take all the time he needs. We want him here.”
Devils coach Lindy Ruff had provided no additional information regarding Crawford’s absence other than it being another personal day.
Crawford signed a two-year contract Oct. 9, one day after New Jersey placed goalie Cory Schneider on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout. Schneider agreed to terms on a contract with the New York Islanders on Dec. 31.
Crawford joined the Devils after 13 seasons and two Stanley Cup championships (2013, 2015) with the Chicago Blackhawks, but he hasn’t played more than 40 games in either of the previous two seasons because of concussions.
Devils forward Kyle Palmieri said he spoke to Crawford earlier this week.
“I reached out to him; I think it was Sunday or Monday,” Palmieri said. “You want to give him his space … it’s a personal issue for him and his family, what they’re going through. We’ve gotten to know ‘Crow’ a little bit over the first couple days. I think you’re there to support him as a teammate and as a guy who, obviously I have a ton of respect for, for what he’s done in his career.
“But I’m sure [Zajac] kind of said it the same way. It’s a personal issue for him and we’ll be there to support them no matter what happens over the next couple days.”
Crawford was 16-20-3 with a 2.77 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and one shutout in 40 games (39 starts) with the Blackhawks last season, and 4-5 with a 3.31 GAA and .907 save percentage in nine Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Ruff said that after Mackenzie Blackwood and Crawford that Scott Wedgewood would probably be the next best goalie on the depth chart.
Wedgewood, who signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Devils on Oct. 11 after he was the third goalie for the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, is 7-10-5 with a 3.05 GAA and .903 save percentage in 24 NHL games with the Devils (2015-16) and Arizona Coyotes (2017-18). NHL teams are required to have three goalies on the roster this season.
“Wedgewood has had a real good camp,” Ruff said. “I think he’s been above where the other guys (Gilles Senn and Evan Cormier) in camp have been at. Scrimmagewise, he’s been very good and seems to have his game in a real good place. [Senn and Cormier] have been working hard at it, but if the question is, ‘Who’s a step above?’, Wedgewood has the NHL experience and for me, he’s had a very impressive couple of scrimmages that he’s played.”
Photo courtesy: Andrew Maclean/New Jersey Devils