Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Halak to the Future Part 2...

Everyone loves a goaltending controversy, especially in Montreal, where it has become its own sport. Who will start the next game as goaltender for the Canadiens? Who is the number one and does he deserve the playing time? What does it mean when the "number one" does not start?

With two young goaltenders in Montreal and restricted free agency on the horizon for both Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, GM Bob Gainey has some decisions to make as to who will be his number one goalie next season. Perhaps complicating the situation is the fact that Halak is apparently contemplating a trip to the KHL next year and the Canadiens have a top goaltending prospect in Hamilton, the AHL’s Goaltender of the Month in December, Cedrick Desjardins.

While the debate rages on, allow me to offer a suggestion to Montreal management and the Canadiens fans - How about a scenario that involves both goaltenders, a 1A and 1B situation where both goaltenders get almost equal time between the pipes. Halak and Price could become one of the best duos in the NHL if egos can be checked at the door and everyone works towards the ultimate goal, qualifying for the playoffs and taking a run at the Stanley Cup.

To examine the current situation in Montreal, let us look back to the eighties, where a future Hall of Fame member and eventual 4-time Stanley Cup Champion named St. Patrick, shared the net with Brian Hayward. Lost in the shuffle of Roy’s stellar career, is the fact he did not start playing more then 60 games a season until the 1991-1992 season. During the earlier part of his career, Roy was the number one starter but no one expected him to play 70 games a year. Hayward was a dependable backup, a few years older then Roy and he was ready to take to the ice and carry the load when needed. The duo of Roy and Hayward won three consecutive Jennings Trophies, allowing the fewest goals against in the league.

Here are their numbers during their award winning three years together:

1986-87: Roy - 46 GP, 22-16-6 win/loss record, 2.93 GAA, .891 save percentage
Hayward - 37 GP, 19-13-4 win/loss record, 2.81 GAA, .893 save percentage

1987-88: Roy - 45 GP, 23-12-9, 2.90 GAA, .900%
Hayward - 39 GP, 22-10-4, 2.86 GAA, .896%

1988-89: Roy - 48GP, 33-5-6, 2.47 GAA, .908%
Hayward - 36GP, 20-13-3, 2.90 GAA, .887%

Halak has started six of the past ten games for the Canadiens, making him extremely valuable on the trade market, but even more valuable to the Canadiens. Perhaps Gainey could turn Halak, a ninth round pick in the 2003 draft, into a second round pick as he did with Cristobal Huet a few years ago. However, does anyone in Montreal have faith in Carey Price to carry the load between the pipes at the Bell Centre? The Habs fans I have spoken with have concerns about Price’s ability to be the go-to guy at 22 years old. More time is needed in their opinion, before Price can be an everyday goaltender.

Here are their numbers over the past two seasons:

2008-2009: Price - 52 GP, 23-16-10, 2.83 GAA, .905%
Halak - 34 GP, 18-14-1, 2.86 GAA, .915%

2009-2010: Price - 28 GP, 10-14-3, 2.62 GAA, .916%
Halak - 18 GP, 11-6-0, 2.64 GAA, .922%

Where does this leave us? Trading away Halak leaves the Canadiens even younger in the goaltending department if Desjardins moves up to the NHL. What would be better for Desjardins’ career - a long playoff run in the AHL with the Bulldogs or serving as a backup in the NHL? Should Halak be moved at the trade deadline, Gainey would be better off bringing in a reliable veteran to push Price for playing time and perhaps serve as an unofficial goalie coach. If Rick DiPietro returns to New York before the trade deadline, Marty Biron or Dwayne Roloson would become available. Mathieu Garon is another long-serving backup, currently in Columbus. Considering the struggles Steve Mason has had in his second year, it is possible Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson would move a second round pick and Garon to Montreal for Halak but that is merely speculation on my part.

The best move for Gainey could be making no moves. Depending on the contract Tomas Plekanec signs, there would be room under the salary cap to fit in Price and Halak on multi-year deals in the $2.5-3 million range, allowing Head Coach Jacques Martin and Gainey to groom both goalies into a Roy/Hayward type combination. When the contracts end, both goalies would become extremely valuable on the trade market in 2012 or 2013 and by then, either Halak or Price would have emerged as a 60-70 game starter.

As the season hits the halfway point, Montreal sits eighth in the Eastern Conference with five teams within four points of the final playoff spot. Gainey has already completed one extreme home makeover last summer; can he do it again? Only time will tell... and the contract clock is ticking... Have a great sports day everyone.

For Halak to the Future Part 1, check the March 2009 Archives...

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