Jaroslav Halak had another save-choked year for the Montreal Canadiens. Playing under intense media and fan scrutiny in Montreal he excelled. Playing on a team that gave up one of the highest shot counts against per game in the league (32.1 SA/G —fifth worst in NHL) he made saves and won games for a team that often didn't deserve to win.
He followed up a great regular season with an unbelievable playoff. Despite not making it to the final Halak made the second most saves in the playoffs with 519 behind only Antti Niemi's 587. What were the next highest save totals in the playoffs you ask? Rask: 373; Nabokov: 369; Howard: 354; Leighton: 340.
Halak's save percentage of .923 in the playoffs was first among goalies who played at least 12 playoff games. Only Ryan Miller and Craig Anderson who were peppered with shots in their first round losses managed better save percentages as starters, with .926 and .933 respectively.
These factors have all made Jaroslav Halak the starter in Montreal and a hero in the eyes of the Montreal Canadiens' fan base. Where Carey Price has been scorned and booed in Montreal, Halak has played to almost universal approbation.
Thus it was a shock to read this morning that Jaroslav Halak has been dealt to the St Louis Blues for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
The Montreal Canadiens have a variety of holes to fill and very few tradeable assets. Goaltending was a team depth and it was expected they would deal one of their goalies for assets, including hopefully a first round draft pick. Most fans hoped and expected the goalie dealt would be Carey Price and the rewards reaped would be substantial.
Instead the goalie dealt was the beloved Halak and the rewards are considerably less than those hoped for.
In Lars Eller (C/LW 21 6'1" 200lbs) the Canadiens have picked up a reasonably sized, strong skating forward. His first season as a pro started with a bout of mononucleosis in preseason. The Danish skater still managed to score 18 goals and 57 points in 70 AHL games and lead his team,the Peoria Rivermen, in scoring last year. He also managed two goals in seven games with the St Louis Blues.
Eller was the Blues first round pick in 2007 (13th overall). He was the third rated European going in to the NHL entry draft in 2007 behind the ill-fated Alexei Cherapanov and the Flames Mickael Backlund.
Lars is projected as a good two-way second line forward in the NHL by hockey'sfuture.com .
Ian Schultz (RW 20 6'2" 205 lbs) played for the Calgary Hitmen last year, managing 24 goals and 55 points in 70 games. Ian was the Blues third round pick in 2008, 87th overall. Schultz seems to get more attention for his physical play than his scoring prowess. He could possibly be an NHL power forward but looks more likely to be a third line grinder with some offensive touch.
Montreal 's prospects at forward in general seem to be at best checkers. Ben Maxwell, Tom Pyatt, Ryan White, Mathieu Darche, Max Pacioretty, Brock Trotter, and Greg Stewart all seem to possess only a modicum of offensive talent. Danny Kristo and Danny Desharnais are the only two prospects at forward who still look like they could possibly make a contribution offensively at the NHL level.
The addition of Eller looks to improve the offensive potential of Montreal's prospects. Schultz should add some toughness to a lineup often said to lack any. Is this enough to receive for a goalie who has repeatedly shown himself able to excel in a high pressure atmosphere where only a very few NHL goalies manage to succeed?
Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson, who have managed to deal well despite suspect defense in both Florida and Colorado, are two goalies who immediately come to mind as goalies who have succeeded in comparable high shot environments.
More important is how will Carey Price respond to being thrust yet again into the number one goaltending slot in Montreal?
He has lost the starting job to Halak on at least two previous occasions because of his inability to thrive while facing the onerous shot load that goalies face now in Montreal. The derision of the fans has also seemed to destabilize this young goalie. If he's not ready to deal with both this trade could prove disastrous for Montreal.
Halak should do well in St Louis. They give up two fewer shots per game than Montreal and have a marginally better offense. A goalie that gives his teammates confidence can be a big boost to any team. To a St Louis team that appears on the cusp of a deep playoff run, Halak may be a godsend. They were not required to give up a roster player to get him. Any time you trade a first rounder though, you have to worry.
The Blues seem to have won this trade acquiring one of the better young first string goalies in the league who has already survived a baptism of fire in Montreal. Montreal picks up a couple of young prospects who hopefully will provide youthful scoring and enthusiasm to a Montreal lineup that was too small and had little depth last year.
The whole deal, however, hinges on Carey Price being able to handle the starting job in Montreal. A competent veteran back-up goalie will be the next essential player the Canadiens pick up —someone who can mentor Price and get him through the rough spots next year will be essential.