By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
Jaroslav Halak celebrated his 500th career NHL game on December 9, 2019, at the TD Garden. The Bruins hosted the stingy Carolina Hurricanes on a snowy night. The game featured a lackluster offensive showing on both sides. Neither team found a quality scoring chance until four minutes left in the third. The Bruins scored two goals in two minutes, one of which earned David Krejci his 200th career NHL goal. A shutout for a goalie in any game is satisfying, but earning his 49th career shutout in the 500th career game speaks volumes to Halak’s 14-year career.
The Slovakian was drafted 271st overall in the 2003 NHL draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Halak’s draft position is unique today because 2003 was the second to last year the draft featured nine rounds. In 2005, the NHL decreased the round total from nine to seven, which still reigns true today. The 2003 draft also featured a number of goaltenders who still play in today’s game. Marc-Andre Fleury (selected first overall), Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Brian Elliot. Jaroslav’s draft position warranted some time to play in the American Hockey League. Halak was called up for 16 games in 2006 to back up Montreal’s starter Cristobal Huet. Halak began appearing regularly in the NHL in 2008, where he and (current Montreal starter) Carey Price split time. Montreal drafted Carey Price fifth overall in the 2005 draft with the plan that he would be their long-time starter, which has come to fruition. This sealed Halak’s services in Montreal. A week before the 2010 NHL draft, the Canadiens traded Halak to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz.
Before Halak, the St. Louis Blues’ goaltending situation was a constant merry-go-round of players. The Blues did not have a four-year tenured starter since Brent Johnson from 1999 to 2004. They desperately needed a goalie who could handle the workload of a starter. After trading for Halak in 2010, the Blues offered a four-year, $15 million deal. His first season with St. Louis yielded a fourth-place position in their division, missing the playoffs. The following year, Halak posted an exceptional 1.97 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, earning him and fellow teammate, Brian Elliot, the William M. Jennings Award (fewest goals against in 25 minimum games).
The two could not continue their fewest goals feat against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in the 2012 semi-finals. Additionally, the following two years the Blues exited the playoffs in the first round. Suddenly, Halak’s days in St. Louis were dwindling.
The Blues drafted Jake Allen 34th overall in the 2008 NHL draft. Within the organization, Allen was primed to guard the team’s blue paint for the foreseeable future, which made Halak expendable. In a mammoth deal during Halak’s final contract year, the Blues sent Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a 2015 1st-round pick, and 2016 3rd-round pick to Buffalo for 2009 Vezina Winner Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. Buffalo flipped Halak and a 2015 3rd-round pick to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and forward Rostislav Klesla. Jaroslav only played 12 games with the Capitals before they shipped him to the New York Islanders for a 2014 4th-round pick.
Halak and the Islanders agreed on a 4-year, $18 million deal in 2014. He started in 59 games his first year with the Isles, leading the team to second place in their division. The Isles, unfortunately, experienced another first-round exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 2016, for the third time in his career, Halak split playing time with another goalie, Thomas Greiss. Neither could help the struggling Islanders, and they finished fifth in the Metropolitan Division in 2016. The 2017 season didn’t fare any better as the Islanders allowed the most shots and goals against. The Islanders finished with 2,918 shots against and 293 goals against for the year, which equates to 35.5 and 3.5 a game, respectively. Halak performed the best he could with what he had, once posting a 50-save shutout against the New York Rangers.
Jaroslav Halak made 50 saves in the Islanders’ shutout victory over the Rangers.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 16, 2018
He is the 11th goalie with a 50-save shutout since shots on goal became an official stat in 1955-56.
Unfortunately, Halak could not give these heroic performances all year and the team finished seventh in their division. Halak found himself looking for a new home after finishing the season with an abysmal 3.19 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
Don Sweeney, current Bruins General Manager, had been looking for a consistent and reliable back up for Tuukka Rask for a few years. Rask is at his best in the playoffs when his playing time is managed. The Bruins just came off of a second-round exit in the 2017 playoffs after running into a buzz saw in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their back up goalie, Anton Khudobin, received a sizable raise from the Dallas Stars that the Bruins were unwilling to match. Sweeney called Halak on the first day of free agency and struck a deal for 2-years, $5.5 million. Halak brought a starting goaltender resume and could relieve pressure from Rask. Halak appeared in 40 games in the 2018-2019 season posting a 2.34 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. Not only did he provide Rask much-needed rest, but he also added a little flair to his starts.
Fast-forward to the current season: Halak and Rask have split time almost evenly. Rask has appeared in 17 games thus far versus Halak’s 11. Halak still hovers in the 2.14 goals-against average and .934 save percentage range in these 11 games. The two have been a large reason why the Bruins are sitting atop the league’s standings.
Rask and Halak rank 2nd and 3rd in save percentage among the 45 goalies with 600 minutes played this season.— Bruins Stats (@bruins_stats) December 4, 2019
The Bruins finally have two reliable goaltenders and can start either one with confidence. There is a thought around the league that goaltending tandems could become more common in the playoffs, and the Bruins would benefit immensely.
Halak is currently in his final contract year with the Bruins. The team has three goaltending prospects in the system that are working their way into NHL game-shape. None of the three are considered NHL-ready as of this season, so the Bruins could look to extend Halak. Those within the organization can estimate if a prospect is ready to take the leap, but Sweeney will be cautious. The Bruins have rarely benefited from employing a reliable back-up who could give Rask numerous games off. The two biggest obstacles in keeping Halak, however, are other NHL teams’ needs and Halak’s salary demands.
If Halak continues his strong play throughout the season and maybe the playoffs, he could be looking at a larger raise than Khudobin received from Dallas. Will Sweeney be willing to offer that, given the salary cap constraints if a prospect isn’t ready? NHL organizations are always looking for a formidable goaltender and Halak’s resume fits the mold. If he continues to post legitimate goalie stats, NHL teams will be calling on July 1. Bruins fans have come to love Halak with his acrobatic saves and reliability. Hopefully, Bruins fans see more of #41 and his play yields more than a playoff exit. Congratulations to an incredible feat of 500 games and here’s to many more