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Numbers Game: Blues Get Halak From Habs For Prospects

Scott Cullen
6/17/2010 4:13:57 PM
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The Montreal Canadiens kicked off the NHL Offseason in dramatic fashion, dealing playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for a pair of prospects.

Numbers Game examines the Jaroslav Halak deal.

The Blues Get: G Jaroslav Halak.

Halak, 25, is coming off a superb season during which he wrestled the starting job away from Carey Price, posting a .924 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average in the regular season. 

He then came up big in the playoffs, helping the Canadiens knock off the favoured Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, despite being outshot and outchanced in both rounds.

Halak's late-season and playoff performance seemed to put him in position, as a restricted free agent, to earn a significant raise on the $800,000 he earned last season.
 
While that raise may still come through contract negotiations with the Blues, it's also possible that the Blues will let Halak go to arbitration and take their chances with that result.

In the last 20 years, there have only been a handful of goaltenders as young as Halak that had a season with a save percentage better than his .924 mark in 2009-2010 (while playing at least 40 games). 

One was Tuukka Rask last season, whose .931 mark tied Roberto Luongo in 2003-2004 with a .931 save percentage. 

Martin Brodeur in 1996-1997 (.927) and Andrew Raycroft in 2003-2004 (.926) were the only other goaltenders in the last 20 years to record a better save percentage in a season while aged 24 or younger.

Halak will not have to worry about any goaltending controversy in St. Louis, but will have a solid veteran backup in Ty Conklin

Even if Halak doesn't duplicate last year's impressive numbers, he's a likely upgrade over incumbent starter Chris Mason and since Halak is 25 and Mason is 34, there is naturally a greater likelihood that Halak can continue to grow and develop with the rest of the Blues' emerging young talent.

Mason now becomes an interesting option on the free agent market, as Evgeni Nabokov and Marty Turco are the only others to have played in more games than Mason's 118 over the past two seasons and Mason's .915 save percentage over the last two seasons ranks just behind Nabokov (.916) and ahead of Turco (.905).

The Canadiens Get: LW Lars Eller and RW Ian Schultz.

Eller is a 21-year-old Danish winger who led the Peoria Riverman of the AHL in scoring with 57 points (18 goals, 39 assists) in 70 games last season.  He also picked up a couple of goals in seven games with the Blues.

The 13th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Eller is a skilled forward who uses his size (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) and gets involved physically more than might be anticipated from a playmaker.

Given Montreal's lack of size up front, and needs for a skilled forward, there will be an opportunity for Eller to step right into a spot on a scoring line in Montreal next season. 

According to www.capgeek.com, Eller will make $875,000 (plus potential for bonuses up to $425,00) next season, the second year of his entry-level contract

Schultz was a co-captain for the WHL-champion Calgary Hitmen, scoring 55 points (24-31-55) and adding 150 penalty minutes in 70  games. 

The gritty 20-year-old is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, and is signed to an entry-level deal, but seems most likely to get at least a year or two in the American Hockey League to develop and prove that he's capable of earning a spot in the NHL.

By moving out Halak, Montreal has clearly set Carey Price to be their number one goaltender, which is a risky proposition given his uneven play, but Price is still just 22-years-old, so it's too soon to say he can't be the No. 1 goaltender that the Canadiens expect.

A veteran backup may be part of the free agent shopping list for Montreal, with Martin Biron seeming to be a natural fit as a Francophone who has been a starter in the past and would be able to support Price without it necessarily turning into a goaltending controversy. 

Perhaps the most important part of this deal from Montreal's perspective is that they save money, by not investing in a long-term, big-money deal for Halak, but now it's up to the Canadiens to invest that saved money wisely, whether that means a greater likelihood of re-signing free agent centre Tomas Plekanec or increasing the possibility of signing a significant free agent forward.

It's a risky move by Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier, particularly considering the trade comes at a time when Halak's value is peaking, but if Eller becomes a legitimate top-six forward and Price is a bona fide No. 1 goaltender, then the move will pay off. 

Considering Halak's popularity in Montreal, following the playoff run, the Canadiens can't afford to have Halak go to St. Louis and backstop the Blues to playoff success while Montreal takes a step back from any progress they made last season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.




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