The Jaroslav Halak Conundrum
The Jaroslav Halak Conundrum(2007-11-02 13:21 posted by T.C. Denault)

Rumors can be a funny thing.

A rumor can be started by anybody and for any number of reasons. Rumors are at best a mixture of truth and untruth, and in most cases have very little substance behind them. Rumors are put out in the public domain to catch attention, start discussion, and most of the time; to act as a launching point for other rumors. Quite often the person who starts the rumor has an agenda they want to put forward, a trial balloon so to speak. And thatís the main problem with any kind of rumor. Rumors for the most part are quite often impossible to substantiate.

Now in a city that eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year, it doesnít take long for Montreal to become a capital for rumors, and nowhere is this gossip more concentrated on than on her beloved Canadiens.

A large percentage of hockey gossip, rumors, and half truths you hear in Montreal have to do with player movement. For example in the past couple of months weíve been treated to the following juicy tidbits.

Alex Kovalev is going to Calgary for Alex Tanguay.
Guillaume Latendresse may be shipped with Kovalev.
Daniel Briere didnít sign with Montreal because he wasnít guaranteed the top center spot with the team.

And now the latest,

Jaroslav Halak has asked the Canadiens to trade him unless they call him up to the big team.

Now while the first three rumors may be true or may be the figment of someoneís overactive imagination, it is the third one that may unfortunately contain more than a hint of reality to it.

For those of you unaware, here is the gist of the rumor.

Halak, unhappy with his demotion to Hamilton after the teams training camp has asked Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey to bring him back up to play for the Canadiens and if that doesnít happen, to trade him to another NHL team; one where he wouldnít be playing in the AHL. If Gainey doesnít follow through with this Halak has hinted that he will sign a million dollar deal with the Russian Super League and play there for the remainder of the season (an increasingly popular haven for Eastern European players upset with the status of their NHL careers).

Now before we start analyzing the situation and the options that Gainey may or may not have, keep in mind that this is a rumor (even though it has been confirmed by RDS), and that everything from here on in is pure speculation.

Firstly, there was no doubting Halakís disappointment about being sent down to Hamilton this fall at the conclusion of the Canadiens training camp. Not only was it widely reported in the Montreal Gazette but his coach in Hamilton, Don Lever commented on it as a possible reason for Halakís poor start with the Bulldogs.

However, in the last week Halak has begun to show the form that he displayed last year for the Bulldogs and then later on in the season for the Canadiens; stopping 72 of the 76 shots heís faced in Hamiltonís two games this week for a save percentage of .947.

In many ways I can empathize with what Halak is going through at this point. Without his stellar performance down the stretch the Canadiens wouldnít have been fighting for a playoff spot right up to the seasonís final weekend. After the departure of David Aebischer in the off season, the number two spot on the Canadiens goaltending depth chart seemed to be his.

In training camp he didnít play poorly, and was not outplayed by Carey Price in either the camp or the exhibition games. As a matter of fact, he seemed to have the blessing of his coach as one of the Canadiens goalies to start the season. Unfortunately for Halak, his coach was overruled by the teamís general manager and it was Price who stayed in Montreal. And so instead of flying the Canadiens team charter he found himself riding the bus in Hamilton.

Now if this rumor is true, Gainey has a tough decision on his hands. Clearly, the one thing he wants to avoid is having Halak bolt to Russia. Under this scenario the Canadiens would be left empty handed. As for bringing Halak up to play for Montreal, barring an injury to Cristobal Huet or Price that isnít going to happen.

So that opens up the possibility of trading Halak and the Canadiens getting some return on their investment. Hereís where things get complicated. At the conclusion of this season Huet is an unrestricted free agent. Now it seems to me that the original plan was to maybe use Huet as trade bait near the trade deadline to help acquire help for the Canadiens in other areaís, thus leaving a goaltending tandem of Price and Halak manning the nets for Montreal.

But if the team continues to perform at this high level as the season progresses with both Huet and Price playing this good, I think it makes Gainey more reluctant to move Huet. After all when things are going well for your team, the last thing any sensible general manager wants to do is tinker with that winning formula.

On the flip side of that, does Gainey then risk losing Huet for nothing, like he did with Sheldon Souray this summer? Itís more likely that he would like to repeat the Craig Rivet trade scenario from last spring; a first round pick and a player who can play with the big club.

Where Gainey decision lies is more with Huet than Halak at this point. Should Gainey decide that Halakís expendable then he must sign Huet to a contract extension. If he doesnít he runs the risk of starting next year with Price as the starter, and either Yann Danis as the backup or some high priced free agent backup.

Obviously, Carey Price is the goaltender of the Canadiens future, but the question remains, how quickly is that future approaching. So far this season I think the Canadiens have done an exemplary job of putting Price in the right situations as he begins his NHL career. I also think that Huet has reverted back to his all star form of recent past. At this moment, the strength of this team lies in its goaltending at both the NHL and AHL levels.

The other option open to Gainey is to do nothing, to call Halakís bluff and to find out just how serious he is. Needless to say the Canadiens would love to maintain the status quo. The insurance that Halak provides should something happen to Huet or Price is invaluable, especially when you look at some of the other teams in the league. Perhaps, the best thing for everybody involved is to all take a deep breath, and then have Gainey determine the seriousness of Halakís ultimatum.

In an ideal world for the Canadiens this rumor wouldnít be true. The Canadiens start to the season has been a pleasant surprise. And despite some unwanted distractions the team has thrived. But the season is still young. There is no reason to upset the apple cart, so to speak at this early point. There is much more hockey that has to be played. But, if this particular rumor is true it puts Bob Gainey in a situation where the right answer is crucial for the teamís future, both this year and in the years to follow.

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