Friday, June 25, 2010

One Week After Halak Trade, Montreal Fans Still Fuming...

This article was first published in the June 25th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

The start of the NHL’s off-season is supposed to be the time of year when the fans of every team watch roster moves quite intently, hoping their team makes a move or two that will bring them closer to the Stanley Cup Final, or at least in contention for a long playoff run. However, that is not the case in Montreal, as fans of the Canadiens are saddened and bewildered by a stunning trade.

In the week since the Montreal Canadiens traded their playoff MVP Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for two unproven prospects, the reaction has been swift and very one-sided; fans are furious with General Manager Pierre Gauthier.

Long-time Montreal Gazette columnist and Habs observer, Red Fisher, described the trade in his June 18th column as, “The mother of all brain dead trades in recent history.” Personally, I am left wondering if St. Louis GM John Davidson is a sheep farmer, because he certainly fleeced the Canadiens in this trade. It is not only the lack of star-power in the players headed to Montreal, it is the timing and the optics of the deal that makes this one of the greatest sports disasters in recent memory.

Yes, Jaroslav Halak was set to become a restricted free agent, meaning that he could look at offers from other teams, but Montreal had the right to match any offer or receive three first round draft picks as compensation if they believed the offer was too much and let Halak leave town. Montreal could have worked on a trade or a contract extension with Halak until mid-August - there was no urgency in this situation, which is what makes it so stunning. If the two sides could not come to an agreement by then, the Canadiens could say, “We tried” and claimed Halak was being greedy; creating a less volatile situation for Gauthier.

The fact that the Canadiens never approached Halak or his agent about a new deal is mind-boggling. Not only have they given away a legitimate number one goaltender, they have unwittingly handed the keys to the bank vault to Carey Price. By claiming they could not afford Halak, Montreal has handed the role of number one goaltender to Price, and he is also in the restricted free agent category. If the Canadiens cannot sign him soon, he too could receive (and accept) an offer from another team. Knowing that Montreal desperately requires his services, Price and his agent can ask for a long-term, multi-million dollar contract. This trade is going to prove costly on many fronts.

While this year’s Stanley Cup Final displayed two goaltenders that are not superstars, I am yet to be convinced that this will become a trend. At the heart of any great team, or a long playoff run, is an All-Star goaltender, capable of stealing games from the opposition. In Halak, Montreal had exactly that - a goalie capable of shutting down the opposition when facing over 50 shots a game. Where would the Canadiens be in the history books without Plante, Dryden or Roy in goal, the New Jersey Devils minus Martin Brodeur, or the 1980’s New York Islanders dynasty minus Billy Smith? Quite simply, they would not be in the history books at all.

The players obtained from St. Louis are quality prospects; I am not saying they are not. However, Halak is a proven number one goaltender in the league; surely, he was worth re-signing or at the very least had earned a conversation about his contract status. The pressures of playing in Montreal are well documented and I feel for the players arriving from the Blues. Not only must they earn their way to the NHL, they will be forever attached to “the trade” - Have a great sports day everyone.

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