The Devils announced Friday that Corey Crawford will take an indefinite leave of absence due to personal reasons after the veteran goaltender missed a few days of training camp,
Crawford, who signed a two-year, $7.8 million contract with the Devils in the offseason, reportedly participated in the team’s first two days of camp on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. But the former Blackhawks goalie was absent for a fifth straight day Friday, with NHL.com reporting that the first two were for “maintenance” and the past three for personal reasons.
New Jersey is set to open the truncated 2020-21 season against the Bruins on Jan. 14.
“We need to give him his space,” Devils forward Travis Zajac told reporters Thursday. “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.”
After buying out the remaining two years of former longtime netminder Cory Schneider’s contract and scooping up Crawford in free agency, the Devils appeared to solidify their goaltending when they locked up Mackenzie Blackwood to a three-year deal last month.
Without Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup-winner over his 13 season with Chicago, the Devils are scarce at the goaltending position. In October, the Devils brought back Scott Wedgewood on a one-year, two-way deal. Wedgewood served as the Lightning’s third-string goalie during their Stanley Cup run last season, but the 28-year-old has just 24 games of NHL experience. He has spent most of his time in the AHL.
Crawford, who’s contract carries a $3.9 million cap hit, posted a .917 save percentage in 40 starts with the Blackhawks in 2019-20. Blackwood, the Devils’ 42nd-overall pick in 2015, ended the 2019-20 season on a high note. He finished with a 22-14-8 record and a .915 save percentage. He primarily split games with Louis Domingue, now with the Flames, and Schneider, now with the Islanders.
“I reached out to him; I think it was Sunday or Monday,” Kyle 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.”