Jaroslav Halak, the 25-year-old Slovakian netminder, was the arguably the best available goaltending asset this offseason. His stock skyrocketed after an unprecedented playoff run where he backstopped the 8th seed Montreal Canadiens to victories over the top team in the East and the defending Stanley Cup champions while boasting the best save percentage in the playoffs.
GMs were apparently told a while ago that he was on the block but the trade of Halak to St. Louis for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz came as a shock to the rest of us. Carey Price was supposed to be Montreal’s next Patrick Roy but it was Halak who was actually their savior. The deal also came as a major disappointment to Flyers fans who felt that Paul Holmgren missed out on his second opportunity to acquire one of Montreal’s young goalies with franchise potential. (It was said that Halak was offered to the Flyers in exchange for a second round pick prior to the turn of the year, but Holmgren thought the price was too steep.)
I would encourage you not to be too dismayed, though. There are a lot of positives for the Flyers in this trade. First of all, it sets the bar for trade value. In exchange for the rights to Halak, the Habs got Lars Eller, who was one of the Blues’ top prospects but is projected to be a second line center, and Ian Schultz, a physical forward with questionable potential.
The Blues were also one of four teams actively pursuing a starting goalie, alongside of the Flyers, Lighting, and Sharks. Now 25 percent of the buyers are gone. If the Flyers play their cards right, they can have their pick of the litter.
It’s a buyers’ market for goaltenders. There are plenty of high ceiling goalies out there who are stuck behind a proven starter and even some quality starters who could lose their jobs to better prospects. This group includes the likes of Cory Schneider (VAN), Jhonas Enroth (BUF), Michal Neuvirth (WAS), Jonathan Bernier (LAK), as well as possibly Alex Salak (FLA), and Chet Pickard (NAS). There are also a number of quality starters bound to hit the free agent market who, due to the lack of demand, will not command top dollar. This crop of goalies includes Evgeni Nabokov (SAN), Chris Mason (STL), Marty Turco (DAL), and Dan Ellis (NAS).
The Flyers will be dealing from a position of strength. There are more goalies available than there are jobs. Martin Biron’s gaffe from 2009 is likely still fresh in the minds of many UFA goalies. He wanted too much money to re-sign with the Flyers, grossly miscalculating how much he would be in demand. Instead of getting paid the $4M+ he reportedly wanted from the eventual Eastern Conference chamions, Biron settled for a backup position with the Islanders for $1.4M. Though I expect some, like Nabokov, might consider a move to the KHL if all else fails, I suspect most UFA goalies will be content to sign at a discounted rate this season. Since the Flyers have made the Eastern Conference Finals twice in the past three seasons and appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals this year, Philadelphia will be an attractive destination for goaltenders, even if they won’t make top dollar.
Philadelphia also has the added bonus of potential in-house options that would serve as both a contingency plan and a chip they can use to get trade partners or free agents to lower their demands. Michael Leighton played well in both the regular season and playoffs and he had good stats. Brian Boucher also proved to be very reliable down the stretch. In addition, the Flyers signed Sergei Bobrovsky from the KHL, who has been compared to Washington’s Semyon Varlamov, and have Joacim Eriksson, whose value is rising quickly, in the systems. They don’t need to acquire a top tier goalie, per se. It would just help them.