Understanding the Halak Trade Shocker

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Why was Halak traded? Didn't he win the starting job?

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"I cannot believe the Canadiens have traded the player who singlehandedly allowed them to beat Washington and Pittsburgh and make it to the third round of the playoffs! What were they thinking!"

The reaction is a common, and angry one, upon first take. Fans, after all, are supposed to be passionate!

It is a broad summation of the feelings of Habs fan immediately after hearing news of the trade, but it is quite typical of what information is consistently fed to brains in small bits and bites, usually and largely, through the media.

Often, what one selects to believe determines reactions.

Jaroslav Halak is one heck of a good goaltender, and his greatness will be determined by his longevity.

But my friends, things must be placed in proper proportion, analysed some, and disected smartly, before rendering an absolute opinion one way or the other in deciding whether the Canadiens chose the right course of action.

If this were the summer of 1985, I suppose I would be devastated had the Canadiens traded Steve Penney to Calgary for Joel Otto and prospect Brett Hull, placing all their hopes on a skinny kid named Roy.

The comparison is totally superfluous of course, because we have benefit of hindsight.

But maybe it isn't all that out of whack.

Back in 1985, few people had Patrick Roy pegged for greatness, especially a season away. Glen Sather, then GM of the Oilers, wondered aloud what Blues GM Ron Caron was smoking when he sought after Brett Hull.

Meanwhile, folks were comparing Penney to Dryden and no one batted an eye!

A parallel always sells a story, garners attention. The media angle is always serving you the quickest angle to come to mind. It's not often logical, but neither is a Big Mac.

Here's what people tend to forget in this instance, but select to remember in others.

Hockey is a team game.

The success of a team depends on the contribution of all its members.

Sometimes, when one player make a great and noticeable contribution, it tends to steal the headline, making it appear as though team success was a matter "singlehandedly" accomplished by one main contributor.

The big deceiver is that team success is rarely accomplished by anyone singlehandly. Look no further than the Blackhawks and Flyers teams in this springs's classic to witness two clubs loaded with contibutors who stepped up.

The Canadiens this spring, we're no different, except in that they did not have as many able to step up to defeat Philly.

Halak, awesome as he was, could not do it alone, and couldn't have done it alone.

In fact, he actually did not do it alone!

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The Canadiens built a defensive wall in two rounds that played to their strengths. The system prevailed in keeping shots at angles and powerplay chances snuffed by clogging middle lanes.

It took the contribution of every Canadiens player on the ice to make this ploy work. If there had been weak links in the chain, such a tactic would have broken down.

Halak being as great as he was, this method made him appear even stronger, as it should.

Goalies are always spotlighted for their work, good or bad. As the last line of defense on teams, that is inevitable.

Fans understanding of goaltender properity is limited to stats are as simple as wins, loses, goals against and save percentage. The error is often in thinking that they make up the entire story.

There is likely no player in all of sport who benefits more from the contribution of teammates around him than a goalie. The numbers are team numbers, reflected upon one person.

In baseball, the pitcher is another unique position. If your favorite team had just acquired a pitcher in a trade, the first thing you would look at is his win total. If it were good, you likely would never think to check out how many homeruns were hit during his starts, or what offensive support his teammates generated for him while on the mound.

In sports, fans are conditioned to think with immediate assessments on grand scales.

Wasn't the Flyers' Michael Leighton not thought of as a potential Conn Smythe candidate back about ten days ago?

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Goalies are either placed on pedestals or treated to a lightning rod, because it is the easiest assessment for a fan to make.

Have you ever heard of a defensemen or a left wing controversy?

It's always a goalie controversy, and a left winger is never a flash in the pan.

Goaltending history is littered with stoppers described as flashes in the pans. Andrew Raycroft, Jim Carey, Byron Dafoe, Kelly Hrudey. The list goes all the way back in time, practically to the first men to strap on pads.

Why that is, is very simple. And if you still do understand, return to where this article first mentions a team game.

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Why Price over Halak?

All along the debate of one goalie over another, every possible case has been made for either.

In time, with Halak's rise, I considered that the Canadiens couldn't lose in chosing either goalie to part with. In my mind, we could just as easily be discussing the trading of Price today.

In one tally of things, Halak fared no better against the Flyers this post season than Price two playoffs back. That is not a judgement on either goaltender. It might not even be a comparision.

What it does assess, is that in front of either goaltender, against a particularly tough opponent, the Canadiens as a team, have not progressed. One could say, the Canadiens, as two very different teams in 2008 and 2010, did not get by the Flyers either time.

The Canadiens, and Pierre Gauthier, do not look at question in mere terms of which goalie to stick with. The concern is how to best improve the team.

In sum, with what was seen in these recent playoffs, improving the team can improve the goaltending.

The Canadiens, faced with the prospect of losing a key free agent in Tomas Plekanec, decided to deal from their position of strength to strengthen the team. That is what good managers do for teams wanting to improve.

In improving the team depth wise with this deal, it allows the Canadiens the chance to build and not step back.

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Who made who?

For those still thinking that Halak singlehandly took the Habs six weeks deep into the post season, consider again whether it was Montreal stingy fortified setup that made Halak stand tall or whether it was vice versa.

The real answer is likely good doses of both, as teams play off their goalie strengths just as goalies often play better with leads.

The thinking is likely that with a fortress built around an even larger goalie in Price, with a better balanced attack and defense in front of him, the Canadiens can still acomplish higher goals. If anything was proven in the Eastern Conference playoffs this spring, or the NHL for that matter, it's that no longer are there dominant goaltenders, or that one is absolutely required to win.

Now if the Canadiens were perhaps able to present a dominant goaltender in front of a competitive, better balanced team....

The deal inside the deal

Today, the names of Lars Eller and Ian Schultz are not as significant as they may one day be. The fact that they are not name players hurts the immediacy of the perception of this deal on impact, but as both players become better known, those opinions will change. Already, with word on Eller being positive, outlooks have opened and some have changed.

The biggest complaint will be that Gauthier obtained no name players for the playoff hero he traded. Before that is criticized, two things should be considered. First off, it could be none of merit were offered. Gauthier has alluded to T.J. Oshie, David Perron and David Backus being off limit in talks with St. Louis. In regards to others clubs and potential discussions, speculation is meaningless. There has been rumour that talks were again held with Philadelphia, and with San Jose and Chicago. Philadelphia had previously refused Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and now my guess is that they would also not part with James van Riemsdyk.

Additionally, it is consensus thinking that the Canadiens were ill positioned to take on an established player's salary, especially prior to cleaning up its own salary and free agent matters. In this present complication, bringing in another high salaried player hardly clarifies the Canadiens cap concerns.

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Money to spend, and not money spent

As it stands, Montreal still have approximately $14M to divide among as many as seven players they would like to return to fill out their roster. One of those is Tomas Plekanec, another is Price.

Trading Halak allows Gauthier to better manage assets financially over the next few seasons and the addition of Eller, who could produce at a nice ratio for his salary, simplifies rather than complicates.

Retaining Halak may have conspired against everything that hoping to be achieved in a team sense. Halak's arbitration would have come up after the major moves of the free agent season, and that is an eventuality the Canadiens couldn't afford to consider with Plekanec hanging in the balance.

With the goalie market on July being open wider, the time to deal one was now. Gauthier's window for trading would have narrowed by then. Concerns for adding an adequate backup for Price is likely to be adressed soon enough. There will be 17 goalies on the open market come July, with the Islanders Martin Biron looking like a solid candidate for Montreal.

Chris Boyle, a goaltender himself, is as close to an expert on the subject of Halak and Price as I and many at this site have encountered. Insightful as can be, Chris looks at different methods of evaluating goaltenders and projecting their worth. He understands what and what not to compare when holding one up against the other. Some have said of Chris in the past, that he seems to have made the Habs goaltending controversy the reason for his existence. Others have said that his type of analysis is what the Canadiens should be basing their thinking on. In fact, it likely is what they do in regards to goalies. If you've never seen Chris' work on these pages, your starter is here, here, and here.

With all that, Chris has taken a shot or two in the past for being a defender of Price. Often, in some eyes, that was taken as a slant against Halak, but that has never been Chris' angle. It was often in the manner that the goalies were assessed in comparison to one another that Chris took issue with.

I asked for his opinion immediately after yesterday's trade, and here is what he had to say.

The biggest thing I took from this deal was the strong character of Pierre Gauthier.

I never knew what type of GM the Habs were getting, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a man who took the hard route because he believed he was right. The easy thing was to trade Price, appease the media and fanbase and sit back and say "What did you expect me to do" if Price turned into an All-Star.

The focus of blame would have moved from him and the onus would have been placed on Halak. If Halak had faltered the fanbase would have turned on him. Instead he decided to risk his job on HIS decision, not the fans. That takes guts.

That is the type of GM I want running my team.

Emotion needs to be removed from this scenario. Long term vision replaces short term focus. A whole body of work needs to be studied, not 6 months. Age needs to be factored and the most important aspect of the scenario is cap space and free agency.

After looking at Rinne and Lehtonen's recent contracts, Halak was getting nothing less than $4M per. Everybody needs to remember that in order for Halak to sign a long term deal that the Canadiens would need to buy up 1-3 UFA seasons. He was not going to be cheap after his playoff run.

On the other hand, Price had an average season and is an RFA for 4 more years. He is not arbitration eligible and after missing 6 of is 8 bonuses (see below) earned closer to $1M than 2.2M. So a raise would have been in the area of $1.5M to $2M at most. The Canadiens don't need to go long term with Price for another 2 to 3 years, at that point guys like Hamrlik and Kostitsyn will be off the cap.

This was the smartest financial decision the Canadiens could make. The fact that Price has a better resume than Halak at the age of 22 makes the decision that much easier.

Some fans are going to hold Price responsible for this, that is the biggest risk in this scenario.

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Carey Price's 2010 cap hit was 2.2M, but most of it was incentive laden bonuses from his entry level deal. In order for him to hit the 2.2M bonus, Price needed to meet the following performance bonuses. (Bonuses reached in bold.)

With Price only meeting 2 of 8 bonuses his actual salary was not 2.2M and was probably closer to just over 1M in 2010. Therefore in order to sign Price the Canadiens could play hardball and offer him the qualifying offer and a paycut or they could offer him a small raise and lock up both goaltenders for 5.5M for the 2011 season.

(i) Minutes Played: 1,800 minutes minimum
(ii) GAA: GAA > median GAA of all goaltenders who played 25 or more Regular Season Games.
(iii) Save %: Save % > median save % of all goaltenders who played 25 or more Games.
(iv) Wins: 20 (Player must be goaltender of record, 30 minute minimum*)
(v) Shutouts: Shutouts > median number of shutouts of all goaltenders who played 25 or more Games.
(vi) End-of-Season NHL All-Rookie Team (achieved, only applicable to 2007-08)
(vii) NHL All-Star Game (selected to play or plays-achieved in 2008-09)
(viii) NHL All-Star Game MVP

Here are some interesting, non redundant links on the Halak trade, some written on impulse.

Habs trade Halak to Blues, Gauthier Gives Walsh the FU - Habs Rule!

Who might become Price's backup - Habs World

Habs Management Get Fleeced In Uneccessary Trade - Lions In Winter

Obituaries: Halak - The H Does Not Stand For Habs

It's Price's Time to Show his Greatness - Elliotte Friedman CBC

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