Judging by early reactions, it's probably safe to say that the Jaroslav Halak trade caught most hockey fans - and particularly those ever-devoted followers of the Montreal Canadiens - completely by surprise. That's not to pass judgement on the move one way or the other - it's simply to say that it was not expected, at least not by those outside of the Habs' inner sanctum.
Halak, the 25-year-old goaltender who led the team on a surprisingly deep playoff run this season after seemingly claiming the title of No. 1 from his counterpart Carey Price, is now headed to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for forwards Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. Some fans and pundits thought it would be the other man leaving town.
TSN.ca users were busy weighing in on the story on Thursday, racking up thousands of comments in the process, and to say it caught people off guard might be an understatement.
User name "dijon45" wrote, "Wow!....must say that i didnt see this coming at all!", and as of the time of this writing, 58 of his peers agreed with him, with only nine disagreeing. User "ElvisPresleyIII" wrote, "Wow. I really thought it'd be Price who was leaving Montreal. Good for St. Louis though. They're a defensive minded team and Halak should be a good fit. Still surprised though."
There are, of course, arguments to the contrary. User name "bobby45" said, "You have to look at it like this. Jaroslav Halak is no Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden. He did not win us a Cup. We don't know if he will repeat what he did this year in the playoffs or during the regular season. Price has shown what he can do, and like Jaro, he HAS carried this team. 1st in the conference anyone? We were there because of Price. And he did it with a mediocre team without Cammalleri, Gionta, Plekanec, Gomez, etc. Jaro carried the team with better guys up front. So again, it's disappointing Jaro had to leave, but believe in Price. If anything, this gives him the confidence boost he needed, and he will work that much harder during his off-season training to be better than he ever has been."
Both Halak and Price, 22, had perhaps been seen as the "goalie of the future" for the Habs at one point or another, but in the minds of many, Halak had wrestled that title away by standing on his head in the 2010 post-season and establishing himself as the clear-cut favourite to stick around in the likely event that both goalies could not be kept with the team. Well, Halak is no longer around, and Price will now have another opportunity to show that he can realize the top-calibre potential that he has been labelled with since being taken fifth overall by the team in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Halak, a native of Slovakia who was drafted 271st overall by Montreal in the ninth round back in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, will likely take over as the main man with the Blues, who missed the playoffs last season with Chris Mason and Ty Conklin both spending time between the pipes.
It will likely take some time to fully comprehend the impact of this trade; how the Canadiens fare with Price again slated as the undisputed No. 1 goaltender will certainly affect how this decision is viewed two or three years down the road, as will Halak's fortunes with his new team in St. Louis.
Our question to you is: where does Thursday's unexpected Halak swap rank in the history of notable trades in Canadiens history?
Other moves for your consideration:
1971: Detroit trades Frank Mahovlich to Montreal for Mickey Redmond, Guy Charron and Bill Collins
Red Wings GM Ned Harkness sent Mahovlich to the Canadiens on January 13. Just a few months later, Mahovlich (along with his brother Peter) won the Stanley Cup. They did it again in 1973, when Mahovlich had 93 points. During the 1971-72 campaign, he registered 96 points, a career high. This swap is widely regarded as one of the most successful trades in team history.
1989: Toronto trades Russ Courtnall to Montreal for John Kordic (and Mike Doers)
In retrospect, this trade is generally seen as highway robbery by the Habs. In Courtnall, they got a quick, agile and entertaining forward who scored 39 points in 64 games with Montreal, adding 13 points in the post-season en route to a loss to the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Tough guy Kordic, meanwhile, registered only 13 points in his highest-scoring season with Toronto (also putting up 252 penalty minutes). After struggling with some personal demons, Kordic sadly passed away in 1992 at the age of 27.
1990: Montreal trades Chris Chelios (and a second-round pick) to Chicago for Denis Savard
After numerous successful campaigns with les Habitants, Chelios (and a second-round draft pick) was traded to the Blackhawks for Denis Savard. Savard went on to be a member of the Stanley Cup winning Habs team in 1993 (the last time they took home Lord Stanley's trophy), but months later he signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he played for a short time before returning to Chicago to wrap up his storied career.
Chelios, meanwhile, put up 64 points in his maiden voyage with Chicago and helped to land the team in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins (the Hawks got swept). The next season, Chelios won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman.
LeClair had been clutch for the Habs during his time in Montreal, scoring two game-winning OT goals during the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, which the team won. Originally drafted by the Habs 33rd overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, he had been endearing himself to the Habs' faithful when he was traded to Philadelphia in February of 1995. LeClair went on to become a part of the "Legion of Doom" line (with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg) in Philly and went on to three straight 50-plus goal seasons, adding another two 40-plus goal seasons after that. While Recchi was quite good during his time in Montreal, this trade is not generally regarded as a great one for the Canadiens.
Certainly the most notorious trade in the team's history (after all, it is often referred to as "le Trade"), this one may still sting a bit for Habs fans. After allowing nine goals on 26 shots in an embarrassing 11-1 loss to the Red Wings on December 2, Roy was finally and mercifully pulled by head coach Mario Tremblay.
At that point, the famously emotional goaltender leaned over to team president Ronald Corey, who was sitting behind the Habs' bench, and said, "It's my last game in Montreal." Roy, who had led the team to two Stanley Cup victories (1986 and 1993) and won the Conn Smythe in his rookie year, wasn't kidding. Four days later, he was gone to Colorado - talk about going out with a bang.
Just a few months later, Roy had won the Cup with the Avs, rubbing salt in the wounds of Habs' management. He went on to achieve great success in Colorado, taking home another Cup in 2001, while Montreal struggled for years afterwards. Incredibly, then-Habs GM Rejean Houle had only been 40 days into his stint when he traded away one of the biggest players in the history of one of the most popular franchises in sports.
2008: Montreal trades Cristobal Huet to Washington for a second-round draft pick
On February 26, Huet was sent to the Capitals in exchange for a second round pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Price had been deemed the go-to netminder in La Belle Province, sealing Huet's departure.
Little did the Habs know they would be facing another dilemma in the blue paint once Halak began challenging for the position of starter just two years later, and the bleu, blanc et rouge found themselves trading away another promising young keeper to ensure Price's No. 1 status.
Time will tell how it all turns out. For now, though, it's Your! Call.