While I was surprised to see the Montreal Canadiens move Jaroslav Halak before the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, I was not surprised to see him traded to a club that desperately needed goaltending.
Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier and his staff made a move to send Halak to the St. Louis Blues in return for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
While most Habs fans are livid with Gauthier and Co., I am not.
Halak had a superior playoff run with the Habs as the team upset two of the leagues better clubs on route to an Eastern Conference final with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Halak was a big part of that run, and in the opinion of most people, it was figured that he would get the keys to the company bathroom along with a few million dollars of spending money this off season as a reward.
Instead he was given a ticket out of town.
Why? Isn't good goaltending the item every team needs to win a Stanley Cup?
The Habs have a wealth of goaltending and needed to figure some sort of action plan as free agency is looming. Halak along side of Carey Price, are both restricted free agents come July 1st.
Can you separte yourself from the fan that you are and think of it like a NHL GM?
If the answer is yes, proceed.
Halak played great during stretches of the season and certainly during the Stanley Cup playoffs, no question, but he has arbitration rights which means he can take Montreal (St. Louis now) to an arbitrator and demand a salary in the $4-5M range.
His agent would present a case supporting the money, while Gauthier (now Blues GM Doug Armstrong) would make a case denouncing the money... Who do you think would win?
The arbitrator could very well decide that Halak was so valuable that he could get more money, to some degree.
Nevertheless, Halak would be granted a lot of money for one season and be scheduled to be a unrestricted free agent this time next season. At least Gauthier would know he has Halak under contract for one year, right?
So if Halak was still a Hab and won his arbitration case, do you...
(A) resign Carey Price, if you can, to back up Halak or sign a UFA goalie
(B) trade Carey Price for whatever you can and bet the farm on Halak
(C) if Halak is playing well and carrying the team, try to re-sign Halak after this season for millions more.
(D) try to trade Halak if you can't re-sign him, or if he flops at $5M
(E) If he is on fire next season and the Habs couldn't re-sign him, watch him walk away to another team, maybe a rival for nothing in return
The possibilities are endless...
If Gauthier and the Molson's thought Halak was the real deal, they would have offered a long term deal. This would have avoided the arbitrator and everyone would have been happy except for Carey Price who would likely be looking for a new home.
I am not a Halak fan, but I do believe he really showed some great character during the playoffs and It was nice to see him play so well. At the end of the day, I wonder if Halak is the right long term answer at the type of money who would garner.
The reality of this is that Habs management obviously didn't feel that Halak was their No.1 guy.
With the club having some depth at goal, they are prepared to let Halak go for a return of prospects in areas they need help with. They are trying to look long term while living the short term. Tomas Plekanec could very well be gone from the Habs come July 1st or sooner and there are other needs the club has to address with the salary cup fresh in their minds.
Lars Eller is a great young play who is under-rated due mostly to his injuries and health concerns over the last two seasons. In the AHL this year Eller looked poised and comfortable with the North American game. Rumours where abound that Montreal had been following his development.
With Carey Price currently the only goalie on the roster, it would seem he is the one getting those keys to the company bathroom and some extra spending money, however not as much as Halak would have commanded or been awarded.
Price might not be around either by the time the draft and free agency begins. The fact remains that Montreal needs to acquire a veteran goalie with mentoring skills who can still play well. I think of Johan Hedberg, a UFA from Atlanta who could really help guide Price, and play a few games too. Combined cost is a fraction of what Halak would have commanded or been awarded with less risk. It would also allow Montreal freedom to acquire the other components this club needs.
Price is still young and developing. Had the Habs realized sooner that they didn't handle Price (and Halak for that matter) well in the earlier stages of their developments this situation might not have present itself.
Gauthier and Co, did a great job in terms of keeping the hockey club financially flexible, while allowing themselves to concentrate on the full roster and it's current and long term needs.
As a fan, I have opened my mind to the fact that Jaro is a good goalie who still needs support. Hopefully that will happen in St. Louis.
I think Montreal made the right decision based on a lot of factors both on and off the ice.
Another scenario—had Halak remained a Hab—could very well be that if Halak was awarded a contract from an arbitrator and someone offered Carey Price an offer sheet.
There is still a good chance that Price will garner some interest on July 1st.
One thing is for sure: If Halak couldn't be in Montreal this season I'm glad that he was traded out of the division and conference. If he had become an unrestricted free agent this time next season who knows where he would of landed.
I will certainly watch him in St.Louis and wish him luck. Thanks Jaroslav for your playoff performance, it was a nice ride.