Smiles in St. Louis, questions in Montreal after Halak trade
The hockey world was stunned on Thursday to learn that Canadiens GM
No arguing that the perspective from Montreal is widely viewed as the most compelling angle of this shocking swap. After all, Gauthier not only gave up on the breakout star of the 2010 playoffs -- a goalie regarded by some locals as the second coming -- for a couple of magic beans and a pinch of salary cap space, he also turned the No. 1 job over to
But while there's much mourning and gnashing of teeth in La Belle Province, the folks in Halak's new home town have to be absolutely giddy about their end of the deal. And the fans in St. Louis should be especially pleased with
The Blues, after all, haven't developed a reliable stopper on their own since they plucked
There will be some doubters who wonder if this was a trade based solely on April and May. Fair enough. But Halak didn't simply catch lightning in a bottle as he carried the Canadiens to shocking upsets of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was magnificent for Slovakia in the Olympics and over the past two seasons has posted the fourth-best save percentage in the NHL. Admittedly, that's not quite enough to earn him his Hall of Fame pass just yet, but it's reason enough to believe that the Blues might finally avoid the netminding banana peel that seems to trip them up every spring.
And there'll be a small minority concerned that a team that averaged a middling 2.66 goals per game cashed in its most promising offensive prospect in
Eller, the 13th overall pick in 2007, is a promising two-way talent who is projected to develop into a reliable second-line center. Scouts love his compete level, but differ on his scoring potential. If he matures into a 30-goal, 75-point player, then the Blues paid a steep price. If he's a 20-50 guy, well, that's a quantity that's more readily replaced. And
So sure, the Blues could have gone the something-for-nothing route, muscling their way to the front of the free agent line to grab their choice of aging veterans. But Armstrong recognized that would have been just another short-term solution, another ill-fitting part. So he anted up Eller and Schultz for the right one.
That's not the only element of risk to this deal for the Blues. They still need to get Halak signed to a new deal, preferably before he becomes a restricted free agent. And he won't be cheap. Four million per is the best-case scenario. And there is a chance, albeit a small one, that he could be targeted for an offer sheet that leaves the Blues to settle for draft picks in exchange. But if one judges by the smiles in St. Louis this morning, those are risks worth taking to solve the Blues' own long-running drama.
Back in Montreal, there are three questions stoking the unrest:
First, why did the Habs part with Halak without so much as speaking to his agent,
The answer to that one seems fairly obvious: despite Halak's playoff heroics, Gauthier viewed Price as the club's best option moving forward. That could be a result of both talent assessment and financial prudence, with an emphasis on the latter. After all, every one of those postseason wins added to Halak's asking price -- one that the team couldn't afford, especially while trying to retain UFA forward
Second, why was the return so minimal for a player whose value has never been higher?
No doubt Halak added to his curb appeal in April and May, but there were a lot of For Sale signs popping up in his neighborhood. With names like
And third, is the wildly inconsistent Price truly ready to assume the No. 1 job in Montreal without a safety net?
Well, that's the question that makes me wish I had one of those ashes and sackcloth franchises...