The plan was never going to work. It’s difficult enough to operate a true two-goalie platoon in the NHL. But three? Laughable. New York Islanders GM Garth Snow was convinced nonetheless he could pull it off in Brooklyn with Thomas Greiss, Jean-Francois Berube and Jaroslav Halak.
To the surprise of no one except maybe Snow, the plan bombed. Berube stayed with the Isles at the NHL level but didn’t appear until the Isles’ 27th game of the season and didn’t start until their 28th. Halak struggled to stay sharp, posting a .904 save percentage through the end of December. It was likely a product of sharing the net with Berube during practices and game-day skates on days when Halak wasn’t slated to start. It’s tough to keep one’s rhythm as a backup goalie or, in Halak’s case, the 1B of a platoon, but when you don’t even have your own net to work on your skills when you aren’t in the lineup, it’s especially difficult.
The Isles finally decided to waive Halak, who carries a $3.55-million cap hit through the end of 2017-18, Dec. 30. He cleared waivers and has since toiled with AHL Bridgeport. Surprise, surprise – with actual playing time, he has sparkled at that level, going 6-1-1 with a 2.03 goals-against average and .927 SP.
Halak was the most likely Islander goalie to get moved in a trade even a few months ago, as he had more experience and value than Berube and Greiss appeared to have seized the 1A chair. Halak’s demotion solidified that theory, and Greiss’ three-year, $10-million extension, inked this week, confirms it. Halak is gone. It’s unlikely he ever dons a New York Islanders uniform again. They’re going with Greiss for the medium-term future and will likely see how far Ilya Sorokin has developed by the time Greiss’ deal ends.
But can Halak find a new address by the 2017 trade deadline? He’s playing more than well enough in the AHL to show he’s a class above that league and capable of helping an NHL team. With his contract buried, however, the Islanders won’t necessarily be rushed to relieve themselves of his cap hit. It will take the proper demand – and likely the Isles retaining no salary – for a Halak trade to happen. Which teams would be a fit for him?
St. Louis Blues – Halak would be playing for a new coaching staff if he returned to St. Louis, but he’d be familiar with the city and plenty of teammates. The only problem is Carter Hutton, backup to the struggling Jake Allen, might have to go the other way in a deal, and the Isles have no need for another goaltender.
Philadelphia Flyers – Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have been huge disappointments in their unrestricted free agent walk years. If the Flyers believe they can make noise in the playoffs, they must consider a goaltending upgrade. The Isles would likely have to swallow the final couple months of Mason or Neuvirth’s deal for this to happen.
Dallas Stars – This idea is complicated. For one, while Halak would be an improvement over Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, it wouldn’t be a massive improvement, so the return for Halak might not be huge. The Stars would also have to trade away Lehtonen’s $5.9-million cap hit or Niemi’s $4.5-million cap hit, each carrying over to next season, and the Islanders wouldn’t be interested in inheriting either. This landing spot may only be realistic if Dallas unloads one of its goalies first.
Los Angeles Kings – The Kings are merely a deep sleeper in the Halak hunt. It would take (a) a February swoon from Peter Budaj, who has remained surprisingly effective in relief of Jonathan Quick; and (b) a setback in Quick’s recovery from a major groin injury. The Kings won’t even know if they want Halak for a few more weeks.
Now we wait. Halak went unclaimed when the Isles placed him on waivers, but the goalie market can change in a hurry. We never know who might desperately need a trade to claw back into the playoff picture. Teams who missed the first shot at Halak would be wise to put aside their pride and realize there’s a good goalie out there at a respectable price.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin