Lawson Crouse was nervous. That usually happens when you’re asking the love of your life to marry you, but this was no ordinary marriage proposal. This one had to pass through airport security, French customs and the streets of Paris.
Crouse and his now-fiancée, Claire Stewart, had just RSVP’ed to attend Liam O’Brien’s wedding outside of Prague in July and the idea occurred to Crouse that this would be the perfect moment for a vacation on which he could pop the question.
Originally, the thought was to re-book a COVID-canceled trip to Italy, but the flight to Europe was scheduled to stop in Paris so a few days in the French capital and a week-plus on the Côte d’Azur made sense. That’s when the real planning began — more specifically how to conceal an engagement ring on a trans-Atlantic flight, in a hotel room, and along some of Europe’s most beautiful walkways.
“I put it in my travel bag because I didn’t want to run the risk of losing it in checked luggage; I heard that was going on all over the place,” Crouse said. “I’m Googling to ask, ‘Will security pull us aside if I have a ring in my carry-on?’ Everybody told me it would be OK so I was like, ‘Fingers crossed.’ All of my liquids were under the amount they allow so there was like zero reason for them to go into the bag and it worked out fine.”
All Crouse needed to do was navigate a day of walking Paris’ streets and a romantic dinner before he pulled out the ring on a bridge overlooking the Eiffel Tower.
“I was actually carrying the box around all day; just lugging it around in my pants,’ he said. “I was thinking, ‘There’s no way she doesn’t see this.’
“It was like a four-minute walk from the restaurant so it felt right, I went for it and I’m very happy I did.”
One month after Crouse and Stewart made the ultimate long-term commitment, the Coyotes got in on the action, signing the restricted free-agent forward to a five-year contract extension on Monday with an average annual value of $4.3 million.
The deal was struck just moments before Crouse’s arbitration hearing was scheduled at 9 a.m. Eastern time in Toronto, much to GM Bill Armstrong’s relief. With three days remaining in the arbitration process, only one (Nashville’s Yakov Trenin) of the 24 NHL players who elected salary arbitration has made it to the actual hearing.
“With arbitration, you’re defending your side and why you’re paying that type of money so it can tend to be too honest and leave a scar,” Armstrong said. “That’s part of the process and those are the tools that they give you in the NHL, but do you want to go there? No. Hopefully, you can reach an agreement, and we were able to reach an agreement right before arbitration began.”
The agreement will keep Crouse under contract through the 2026-27 season. Crouse’s five-year term represents the lengthiest contract that Armstrong has handed out in his two-year tenure with the Coyotes.
“Lawson Crouse earned that deal,” Armstrong said. “He’s been a warrior for us, the way he played last year and the way he leads, not only on the ice, but off the ice. He’s one of our go-to guys who plays the game the right way so we’re just really thrilled about getting him done on a long-term situation so he can help us not only get through the rebuild, but on the other side when we’re trying to make the playoffs.”
With new coach André Tourigny coming in and a host of players moving out, Crouse knew that he would have an opportunity for bigger minutes and a bigger role so he spent last summer training hard. It paid off with career highs in goals (20), points (34) and average time on ice (17:26) in a 2021-22 season shortened to 65 games due to a late injury.
“It was huge, the relationship that we built and the opportunity that he gave me,” Crouse said of Tourigny. “As much as you get an opportunity, you have to make the most of it and I felt I did so.”
There have been rampant rumors this offseason that the Coyotes might be looking to trade Crouse, and those rumors increased when contract talks dragged out until the 11th hour, but Armstrong made it clear all along that he viewed Crouse as a core piece of the future, a player who was still trending upward, and a priority to get signed. The delay was just part of the process.
By signing a five-year deal and forgoing three years of unrestricted free agency, Crouse also made it clear that he is committed to Arizona long-term despite the hurdles that the franchise still faces including the rebuild, playing in a temporary, 5,000-seat arena, and working to secure a permanent arena with the City of Tempe.
Crouse is a well-respected and well-liked teammate who won 2021-22 Shane Doan Good Guy Award. He and Stewart are one of the Valley’s better known couples and their dog, Butter Pig, may be the most famous pup in the Valley. Crouse’s agent, Rob Hooper, made it clear all along that Arizona was where his client wanted to stay and Crouse echoed those thoughts on Monday.
“Arizona holds a very special place in my heart and I have a very emotional attachment to, not only the team, but the state and the people that are there so this moment is surreal,” he said. “I’ve had incredible chats with Bill and they are putting a lot of faith in me with this contract.
“From day one of our contract negotiations, I made it clear to him what I thought of the organization, how much I respected everything that goes into it, and how willing I was to be a part of this organization for years. I believe in the coach, I believe in our core, I believe in the players, I believe in the management. All the pieces are there. It’s up to us to make it work, but I hope to never put on another NHL uniform. I really believe in what we can do so for him to commit to me for five years, it’s a good feeling and hopefully, it’s not the last deal that I do with the Arizona Coyotes.”