TORONTO, ON. – At the time, Jaroslav Halak was near the top of his game. He was outstanding for the first two series of the 2010 postseason as the Canadiens made a fairytale run to the Eastern Conference Final (ECF.) His performance took a nose-dive in the ECF against the Philadelphia Flyers but in the minds of many Halak’s stock went up leading some to expect a high return for him if traded.
Carey Price, on the other hand, was coming off of a sub-par year, where his numbers were not bad, 2.77 goals against average (GAA) and 9.12 save percentage (SV%), but resulted in only 13 wins. Price started as the top goalie in the organization, but would end up watching from the bench when it really mattered.
At what seemed like a questionable move to some at the time, Halak was sent to St. Louis for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. Some emotionally thought Price was the one that should have left town. But cooler heads prevailed.
Well, my friends, I think we all know who won this deal.
We haven’t yet seen evidence that Eller can be a goal scorer in the NHL. He’s a player-maker, who is expected to inherit the second-line center role. At this point with limited ice-time and few power-play opportunities, Eller has managed 22 points in 93 games.
Currently Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez occupy the two top center spots on a healthy roster. But Eller has clearly outplayed Gomez so his home on the third line may be temporary. He is a versatile play-making forward — a good, fast skater, who doesn’t mind playing in high-traffic areas and also displays defensive upside.
Ian Schultz, the other player acquired in the St. Louis deal, will play this season in the AHL for the Hamilton Bulldogs where he must start playing to his potential. Unlike Eller, Schultz is a role player with his career ceiling being on the fourth line. He needs to show significant improvement with his skating and conditioning.
In his first season of pro hockey in Hamilton, Schultz totalled 49 penalty minutes in 45 games and scored three goals with one assist, and a minus-5 rating. His goal scoring days are a distant dream (55 points in 2009-2010 with the Calgary Hitmen), and some question his pro ability, but he still has some time to develop into a more rounded grinder.
Halak, the best player when the deal was consummated, could not live up to all the hype last season with the Blues. With 27 wins last year, Halak was not able to come close to the numbers Price had last year as the Canadiens goaltender recorded 38 wins (tied for first) and eight shutouts. Halak went 27-21-7 with a 2.48 GAA, a .910 SV% and seven shutouts.
Despite being on a defensively superior team (St. Louis allowed the second fewest shots on goal in the league) Halak was not able to lead the Blues to the playoffs. Price had a Vezina-caliber season carrying his team to the post-season where the Canadiens took eventual Cup champs Boston to seven games. Halak went through several long stretches of inconsistent play, and was unable to do anything special for the Blues.
Nobody doubts Price has more talent and more potential than Halak. General Manager Pierre Gauthier didn’t doubt it, and that’s why Price is still backstopping Les Canadiens. Price isn’t going to get challenged for the starting role any time soon, but Halak has already been outplayed by Brian Elliot, a former Senators goalie who just couldn’t get anything done in Ottawa.
This season Halak has a record of 1-5-0 with a 3.58 GAA and a .843 SV%. In addition to Elliot, the Blues have Ben Bishop and Jake Allen in the minors, but for now Halak’s spot should be safe. Price’s cap hit is only $2,750,000 while Halak is making $3,750,000. So not only does Montreal have the better goalie, they have the better cap hit.
Often a long-term view is necessary to thoroughly evaluate trades. However, if the trade was to be judged on last season and the start of this one, Montreal wins without debate. Whether or not some still cling to the notion that Halak could have fetched a greater return, all agree that the Canadiens made the correct choice for their franchise goaltender — and the emergence of Eller could make this deal a slam dunk.
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Category: Fan Focus