Montreal Canadiens: Why Keeping Carey Price, Not Jaroslav Halak, Was Genius
Halak was just coming off a career first season with the league's most-decorated franchise, posting a 26-13-5 record, 2.40 goals-against average, .924 save percentage and five shutouts. He also backstopped Slovakia to its best finish ever in the Olympics, falling to Finland in the bronze medal game. However, he really shined in the postseason, setting club records after beating the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals and Stanley Cup-defending Pittsburgh Penguins.
With Carey Price, their fifth-overall draft pick from 2005 behind Halak for this run, many fans were outraged that their beloved Habs would elect to keep him over Halak.
However, can you blame Montreal for dealing Halak when he was hot? GM Pierre Gauthier took a real risk in trading Halak by believing that he wouldn't repeat the same performance. However, he realized that it was a great chance to get return on a goaltender whose stock was through the roof at the time. Plus, look at the season Carey Price recorded the season after Halak's departure.
With no more pressure on Price, he was able to go out, relax and simply play between the pipes. He actually posted similar numbers to Halak's the year before, with 38 wins, eight shutouts, a 2.35 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Those wins were tied for most in the entire league with Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. Eight shutouts were good for third in the league, and that sparkling save percentage was seventh in the league amongst goaltenders playing at least 25 games.
Even in the playoffs last spring, Price played incredibly well, with better numbers than Halak's 2010 run (2.11 GAA, .934 save percentage, one shutout). Even though the Habs didn't advance as far last year with Price as they did with Halak between the pipes, that essentially calls into question a variety of factors, including a well-rounded team effort. With so many injuries on defense and poor efforts from their top forwards and league veterans, Price's play easily was the biggest reason the Habs even made the playoffs.
Also in that deal, the Habs received Lars Eller, essentially an extra player in the grand scheme of things. Eller, a 22-year-old former first-round pick, is proving to be a pretty solid two-way center for Montreal thus far. His numbers aren't anything special, but providing a 6'2", 198-pound frame down the middle allows for size to help shut down other teams' top guns. Playing with Andrei Kostitsyn and Travis Moen the majority of the time, Eller's linemates have combined for 19 points thus far.
It's still tough to say the same about Ian Schultz, who has yet to break into the league with the Habs. The 21-year-old is more of a hard-nosed, gritty forward, but he also showed he can score while spending his junior career with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen.
In the big picture, Pierre Gauthier made the right decision keeping Carey Price over Jaroslav Halak. Halak had a magical run, but now in St. Louis, Brian Elliot has taken over with Halak out due to injury. Until he starts struggling, Elliot will be the No. 1 guy there. He has backstopped the Blues to their fifth-place Western Conference seed right now, not Halak.
With that being said, Halak is obviously a great netminder who will succeed in St. Louis, given the right tools in front of him; he's shown in Montreal he can steal games. Price is undoubtedly the No. 1 guy in Montreal. His record isn't great so far, at 9-8-1, but looking at his .916 save percentage, 2.26 GAA and two shutouts, it's evident the record is more of the team in front of him, unfortunately. The former World Junior Champion hasn't earned the NHL accolades yet, but then again, he's only 24.
As the Habs continue to evolve and make changes, Price will be the one between the pipes, as he should be. Pierre Gauthier surely made the right choice keeping Carey Price.
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