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Putting an End to the Goalie Debate

Posted By Corey Krakower On Feb 7 2010 @ 2:36 pm In Montreal Canadiens | 1 Comment

For those that are not familiar with the situation regarding the goaltender position in Montreal, allow me to summarize as briefly as possible.

In the 2005 draft, the Canadiens were beneficiaries of a draft lottery that awarded them the fifth overall selection. With goalie Jose Theodore locked up long term, fans were certain of one thing; the Habs were not going to draft a goalie. Maybe they would select shutdown D-man Marc Staal, maybe Anze Kopitar who could fill a major void down the middle or maybe even Gilbert Brule out of the WHL who could add some electricity to their offense. For some reason, the Canadiens organization settled on Carey Price, goaltender from the Tri-City Americans.

The thing is; Montreal had traded Mathieu Garon to LA for Cristobal Huet (and Radek Bonk). Yann Danis never really showed signs that he could be an everyday NHL goalie and Jaroslav Halak was some random guy they drafted a few years earlier in the ninth round. We’ll get back to that random guy soon. The logic with the Carey Price pick was that they needed a top-notch goalie prospect. Before coming to Montreal, Price ended up having a solid career in the WHL, but his major highlights included backstopping Team Canada to a World Junior Championship and taking the Hamilton Bulldogs on his back to win an AHL championship.

In that same time period, Cristobal Huet flourished and Jose Theodore starting to flounder. They traded Jose Theodore in 2006 (for David Aebischer) and handed the reigns over to Huet. It was clear that drafting Carey Price was starting to make sense. The following season (2007) saw Cristobal Huet come back down to earth and at the same time suffer an injury that opened up a spot with the big club. With Carey Price dominating in Junior, there was really one option, which was that random goalie Jaroslav Halak who happened to be playing very well in the AHL. He did very well in 16 games and quickly emerged as a fan favorite. David Aebischer didn’t see much action after he was called up and other than 1 more game with Phoenix, he would never appear again in the NHL.

The 2008 season featured the first battle between Carey Price and Jaorslav Halak. Cristobal Huet was under contract for 1 more season but the backup position was available. Carey Price won the job, although it is widely speculated that the coach (Carbonneau) and the GM (Gainey) had a major difference of opinion. It turns out, the team made the right choice, as Carey Price had a very good rookie year and the Canadiens finished first overall in the conference. In fact, at the deadline Bob Gainey had so much confidence in Price that he traded Huet to Washington as a statement that this was Price’s team. Halak, naturally, was called up after the trade but appeared in only a few games.

The 08-09 and 09-10 seasons that followed have featured a goalie controversy that has yet to play itself out. Carey Price has been brilliant and disappointing while it is very obvious that Halak has without a doubt been the more consistent one of the two and his overall numbers have been better as well. The Canadiens are fortunate to have 2 good goalies, so a common thought is that having 2 goalies push each other for ice time is a good thing.

That thought looks good on paper – but not in a cap world.

Montreal has 2 young, affordable assets that would yield a high return in a trade. The problem is that both are restricted free agents at the end of the season and it’s very difficult to carry on with what could cost the team 6-8 million dollars when it doesn’t have to. I understand many teams pay their top goalie 5-6 million, but those teams don’t have a choice. Would it not make more sense to spend 3-4 million on 1 goalie, spend another million on a veteran backup and use the savings to bring in a second line forward or second pairing defenseman? In a cap world, a team should look to unload an asset when that asset has more value to many other teams than it does to your own. Having said that; it’s time to trade one of the two. Either now or at the draft or in the summer, it doesn’t matter, it just needs to get done at some point.

Trading Price or Halak used to be a no-brainer. I am on record as a Carey Price supporter, but even I will admit that right now the answer as to who should be traded between the 2 is not so clear-cut anymore. In fact, most impartial observers would probably say Halak is the better goalie.

The case for keeping Carey Price is simple. He is still very young and right now has a lot of experience (playoffs in particular) for someone his age. Most goalies only come into their own in their late twenties so the sky is the limit. You can’t discount what he has accomplished over his career in hockey (not just NHL). He is a proven winner and there’s a reason he was drafted so high. When he is at his absolute best he is an elite goaltender and the only thing holding him back is being consistently on top of his game. If he ever gets to that level, watch out.

The case for keeping Jaroslav Halak is more based on tangible numbers. His winning percentage as a goaltender is fantastic. In the past few years, including right now, any time the Canadiens have been down and out and needed a winning streak, it seems to always be Halak who gets the job done. He too is a young goalie so it makes me wonder if he has really hit his peak yet. For whatever reason, and no one can dispute this, the Montreal Canadiens just seem to play better and with more confidence when #41 is in goal. Its not something anyone can explain, but its not something you can discount either.

So, putting an end to the goalie debate, I have the answer as to who Gainey should keep and who he should trade.

I DON’T CARE – JUST PICK ONE!

If they trade Price and keep Halak, or if they trade Halak and keep Price; at least they are moving on and insulating their team elsewhere. I trust that whomever the organization identifies as their number 1 goalie for the future will be a good decision regardless. I am comfortable with either goalie, so please pick one and move on!

 

 


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