(Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara, USA Today Sports)
By: Ian Smith | Follow me on Twitter @IanMalcolmSmith
When the Boston Bruins signed Jaroslav Halak as a free agent this offseason, he wasn’t really expected to be anything beyond a serviceable backup. He signed a two-year contract worth $5.5 million with the Bruins, while Anton Khudobin left to sign with the Dallas Stars for two-years and $5 million. The Bruins shelled out a bit more money for Tuukka Rask’s backup for this season, but Halak provided a nice veteran option to play whenever Rask needed a rest.
Halak has played some of the very best hockey of his career and been a pleasant surprise for a team that has suffered through a lot of bad luck with injuries. The official halfway point of the season is right around the corner, and Halak definitely needs to be discussed among the potential Vezina Trophy candidates. He leads the league with a .928 save percentage and is fifth with 2.28 goals against average, although his biggest impediment to being taken as seriously as possible for the award is his relative lack of playing time. Halak has played in 22 games this season while splitting time in net with Rask and has gone 12-6-2 in 21 starts.
His stats are impressive, but he hasn’t been leaned on as his squad’s workhouse this season due to the Bruins depth chart situation. It’s a luxury to have two very capable goaltending options, but it probably means that neither one would get the proper due in terms of that Vezina Trophy by the end of the season. A lot of his chances for the award are going to be based on whether the Bruins coaching staff begins giving him significantly more starts over Rask in the second half of the season. Even with the elite statistics in categories like save percentage and goals against average, it’s likely going to take Halak getting more starts to win the Vezina Trophy.
The last 10 Vezina winners in non-lockout shortened seasons illustrate a pretty clear picture of what Halak needs to get to. In terms of wins, the fewest amount by a Vezina winner in the last 10 non-lockout shortened season is 35. The highest win total is 48. The average is about 41. The lowest goals against average by a Vezina winner in the last 10 non-lockout shortened season is 1.96 goals against average. The highest is 2.31 goals against average, and the average is about 2.10 goals against average. The highest save percentage by a Vezina winner in the last 10 non-lockout shortened season is a .938 save percentage. The lowest is a .920 save percentage, and the average is about a .929 save percentage.
Halak has a save percentage right now that is just about average for what a Vezina winner has put up recently. Even with the goals against average a bit on the high side, it’s still not the highest amongst the recent winners. The wins are the biggest problem for him right now, though, but that’s to be expected given that his goaltending partner is getting so many starts. Tim Thomas won the Vezina with 35 wins back in 2010-11, but he still ranked tied for ninth that season in that category. Halak is tied for 18th in wins right now, and there are currently four goaltenders who are tied for seventh with 15 wins. Halak is a few wins behind the top 10 in that category, which is around where he’d have to be if he wants any realistic chance to win the Vezina.
He’s in excellent shape with his save percentage, and even his goals against average as of now isn’t acting as a huge impediment for his odds. The real challenge for him is in the wins category, and that’s dependent on how many starts he gets in the second half of this season. He might ultimately not play in enough games to really generate sufficient buzz for the award. It would also be tough for him to keep the save percentage and goals against average where they are with more starts, but given how locked in Halak has been in the first half of the season, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to expect him to finish the season with stats worthy of securing the Vezina Trophy.