When over 5000 fans turned out for Jaroslav Halak’s farewell in Montreal over the summer, it signalled the end of an era… not only for the Canadiens and Halak; but in the way that general managers view their netminders within the shadow of the salary cap.
Antti Niemi, though unable to play his best during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, was ultimately still the guy in the net when his team won it. However the Chicago management didn’t see a future for him at the United Center, and released him, to eventually be acquired by the San Jose Sharks.
Evgeni Nabokov, a goaltender who had a GAA under 2.50GAA in his last four seasons with the Sharks, including three seasons with over 40 wins, was allowed to not only leave San Jose, but leave the National Hockey League completely.
This season the Philadelphia Flyers are playing a still relatively unknown goaltender named Sergei Bobrovsky, though they are the ones atop arguably once the toughest division in the league, the Atlantic, looking down on the rest of the East… and Bobrovsky has 11 wins. Only better is Michal Neuvirth’s 12.
Then of course there is Neuvirth… who is holding his own while Varlamov goes through rehabilitation in Hershey. Despite the injury factor, it certainly puts a different perspective on drafting goaltenders on fantasy draft day.
It is just the beginning of a huge transition around the league. Teams are welcoming short-term deals on netminders in hope that they have a strong enough team surrounding them to be able to at least have a shot at the Cup this year, and then if it doesn’t work out, we will consider the options afterwards, but let’s leave that till the summer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the long-term investment in stars like Roberto Luongo or Marc-Andre Fleury is devalued at all…
it just means that the pressure on these guys is so much greater.
Halak, however, stands above the rest as a different case already. The upset of not only the no.1 conference seed, but the President’s Trophy winning team, the league’s best offence, a two-time Hart winner in Ovechkin, from 3-1 down in the series, is something that will likely not be seen again for years again, if ever at all.
However, GM Pierre Gauthier thought differently about Halak moving forward, and pins all hopes instead on Carey Price to be able to rediscover himself in the cauldron of the Bell Centre. He has done Gauther decision justice so far, with four wins from his last four including two shutouts on the year, and minuscule numbers all round on the year so far. I guess the question wasn’t asked whether Halak could repeat the run of last year… only that it was impressive, but ultimately we didn’t get what we wanted, a twenty-fifth Stanley Cup.
Meanwhile Halak was just as impressive through the first 10 games of the season, going 8-1-1 with numbers to match Price. If both were lines on a week-by-week graph of season performances, they would be equally alligned, with no gap to see between them.
Though recently Halak’s heavy workload has caught up with him all at once. Six goals allowed in a 6-3 loss to Colorado on Monday, and then a 7-3 shelling in Detroit last night. He should definately be considered being benched at this point, either by the St.Louis Blues or any fantasy owners. I don’t think this case of burnout is his fault though. The Blues have a perfectly established backup in Ty Conklin, yet Halak has played 14 of the Blues 17 games this season. Surely that is way too high of an expectation for a guy, as talented as Halak is, hasn’t been a no.1 before. The Penguins sat Marc-Andre Fleury while he was struggling for a similiar backup to Conklin in Brent Johnson, and look at Fleury now. He has rediscoveredhimself with three wins from the last four, including an impressive 3-1 win over the Northwest-leading Vancouver Canucks last night… snapping Daniel Sedin’s three-game goal streak.
With Conklin’s experience in Joe Louis Arena in comparison to Halak coming from a different conference altogether and facing Detroit for the first time, I think then would have been the time to rest Halak.
However there is always a time to make it right. 65 games is more than enough. It’s all about finding a balance.