''I took this step because it is Jaroslav's wish to have his chance to play,'' Canadiens GM Bob Gainey told ruefrontenac.com. ''He feels ready to play a more important part.''
The "step" is a call that Gainey made to Paul Holmgren, his counterpart with the Philadelphia Flyers, sometime after Ray Emery went down with an injury. Gainey wanted to gauge Holmgren's interest in obtaining Jaroslav Halak.
'Let's be realistic,'' Gainey told the website. "I received a second-round pick from the Washington Capitals for Cristobal Huet and the Flyers gave up a second-round pick from Buffalo for Martin Biron."
It is highly unusual for Gainey to take the step of speaking with the media about an impending move. So why this time? It is possible that he was misquoted, but I don't think that is the case in this situation. The more probable explanation is that the move is strategic on Gainey's part.
To a small extent, the public message may have been aimed at Halak's volatile agent, Allan Walsh. It was Gainey's way of letting Walsh know that he was actively trying to deal Halak as requested. This would hopefully keep Walsh in check so that he wouldn't cause any further problems in the locker room with another divisive message on Twitter.
While Halak did not explicitly confirm that he asked for a trade, his response when questioned left little doubt. "Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. It's between me and my agent so I'm not going to say 'yes,' or 'no.' I have no comment on this," said Halak.
But there was a more important reason for Gainey to openly speak about shopping Halak.
In all cities, but particularly in Montreal, it is important for the GM to manage expectations. Gainey's message was to the media and fans. While Halak may be beloved in Montreal, he will not fetch a top-six forward in return.
While Halak has decent numbers for a backup goalie, he is adored by Canadiens' fans. Some love cheering for the underdog, whereas others are Carey Price-haters. While this may raise Halak's worth in their eyes, NHL GM's don't value those emotional attachments.
They are looking at a young goalie in Halak, who has proved himself to be a very capable backup, but little else. Halak has been shielded from the pressure of the limelight as all of the attention and pressure have been on Price. Halak, has played against weaker opposition, and more games at home. His numbers on the road are not impressive.
Realistically, it is unlikely that the Canadiens will receive any more than a second-round draft choice in return for Halak.
Some have wondered how this situation differs from Sergei Kostitsyn who also asked for a trade? Sergei's request was the voice of immaturity reacting to a perceived inequity. He felt that he was being treated differently from other players (with some justification).
As for Halak, this isn't the first time he's made a "trade me or play me" request. Gainey has to be concerned about the effect it will have on the locker room. One wonders if his teammates can trust Halak if he wishes to prove himself elsewhere.
So, given the limited return, what is the rush to trade Halak? The value of a goaltender doesn't necessarily increase closer to the trade deadline. Instead, it is more related to injuries and situational need. So, Gainey has to take advantage of opportunities when available.
The injury to Emery provided an opportunity for Gainey to initiate a discussion with Philadelphia.
Halak believes that he can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. He will be given the chance to prove it with another team.
Since the beginning of the season, fans should have been preparing themselves for Halak to be traded before March 3. But given the recent developments, it would seem that a move will be made much sooner.
For analysis of a potential Halak trade read Kyle's excellent article: Battleships for Rowboats