Isles Acquire Halak; Finally Have Their #1?
Islanders GM Garth Snow had fans doing their best Joe Thornton impression today, grabbing Slovak stopper Jaroslav Halak from Washington in exchange for a fourth round pick.
Halak is an unrestricted free agent in July; but hopes are high the club is on course to secure the #1 netminder it has so badly needed since Rick DiPietro’s body turned to glass.
Whilst there is much to do before any deal gets done; this might be the most significant transaction in the clubs recent history.
Halak is coming to the end of a 4 year, $15 million contract. Controversially dealt to St Louis in the summer of 2010, the Blues wasted little time locking him up but his time in Missouri can be described as, at best, mixed.
Despite winning 27 games in his first season, Halak struggled to fully grasp the starting role. He posted very respectable 1.97 GAA and .926 save percentage in 2011/12, but split time with a resurgent Brian Elliott. A torrid run during the lock out shortened 2013 season saw the American take the reigns, and despite a return to form this year he was eventually dealt to Buffalo, along with Chris Stewart, in exchange for Ryan Miller. The Sabres subsequently flipped the Bratislava native to Washington as part of their ‘burn it to the ground’ rebuild, where controversy followed as the Caps missed the post season for the first time since 2007.
But perhaps the most damning statistic of all is that he has played just two play-off games his career defining run in 2010, when he helped the Canadiens knock off Washington and Pittsburgh en route to the Eastern Conference final.
The test for Halak now is to prove he is a legitimate NHL starter again. On Long Island, he would have that chance.
His agent, Allan Walsh, has said he would consider signing long term for the Islanders. The club has no shortage of cap space (reaching the cap floor has been an issue in the past…) and has needed a bona fide #1 since DiPietro’s last full season in 2008.
While Evgeni Nabokov has proved to be a useful, if streaky, stop gap, he was never anything more than a short term solution and neither Kevin Poulin nor Anders Nilsson, who will not be back next season anyway, managed to instill much confidence when the veteran Russian was sidelined through injury this year.
At 28, Halak is perfectly placed to join a franchise stacked with young talent and looking to legitimise itself again.
At worst, Halak provides league average goaltending – at his best he can carry a team for a period of weeks. Either of these scenarios holds significant appeal to a club whose defensive effort has been shambolic at times.
It feels like an almost perfect situation for both parties. Halak can sign a long term deal at a club where he will be ‘the guy’ outright, while the Islanders plug one of their biggest holes.
Of course the wider implication for the Islanders is that a team with a genuine #1 goaltender tends to be a more competitive force – which in turn is a lot easier to sell when the franchise moves to Brooklyn in 2015; because who wants to watch a losing team?
Garth Snow has taken a lot of heat from the Islanders fan base over the past few seasons. If the trade for Thomas Vanek angered fans; the return from his deadline day move to Montreal sent them in to meltdown (despite some potential upside to the deal down the road). It has cast an even longer shadow over Snow’s tenure; despite some very respectable moves given the circumstances he has had to deal with.
Lost in the rage is the way he has actually helped steer the ship back towards the promised land of the post season; turning Nabokov and veteran blue liner Lubomir Visnovsky in to ‘believers’ along the way. Once upon a time, they didn’t even want to report to Long Island! If Snow can do the same with Halak, not only has he secured the clubs future between the pipes for years to come – he’s done it for a 4th round pick.
The Islanders were always likely to be a big player in this summer goalie market – everyone knew they needed to address the situation. What Snow has done here may prove to be the best transaction of his managerial career.
If they can get a deal done.