With the news that Jaroslav Halak’s rights were traded from Montreal to St. Louis earlier today, the free agent goalie carousel was set in motion and has now started to spin. Let the madness begin. Below is some insight on the fantasy fallout, from the trade, including the impact it has for goaltenders on both teams.
Although the current contract negotiations between the Blues and Jaroslav Halak are unknown, all signs point to him settling in as the team’s undisputed starter. Since he would be an unrestricted free agent in a few more years, I expect either a one or two-year deal to be made when all is said and done. There’s also a chance Halak could enter salary arbitration, but that’s the unlikely scenario of the two.
For a young goalie seeking a better opportunity, St. Louis is a perfect place to call home. The Blues are loaded with young talent up front and have a solid, balanced defensive corps backed by youngsters Erik Johnson (21) and Alex Pietrangelo (19). Barrett Jackman (28), Eric Brewer (30) and Carlo Colaiacovo (26-UFA) are quality blueliners with good experience as well.
The Blues are a disciplined team and play a very physical, grinding game along the boards and in the neutral zone, which makes a goalie’s life much easier over the course of a full season. The team gets great support from the forwards on the back-check and they are a confident group with a recent history of strong late-season runs. In that capacity, Halak is a perfect fit to come in and build on last season’s success by leading the team to a playoff spot in 2010-11.
Halak’s season with Montreal (26-13-5 record, .924 save percentage, 2.40 goals-against average and five shutouts) is well-documented. He established a reputation as an elite young star with the ability to win and steal games without getting too high or too low. His stone-cold poise is a trademark that will be on display in every single game. His calm demeanor not only settles his teammates down, but boosts their confidence as well.
Throughout the season, Halak was at his best when he got consistent starts. From October 20-26, he rattled off four straight wins. He did the same exact thing from December 19-26. Then after performing admirably for Slovakia in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Halak returned to Montreal and won a season-high six straight games from March 6-16. On April 2 and 3, Halak posted back-to-back shutouts with 35 saves in Philadelphia and then 29 saves at home against Buffalo. That was the confidence-boosting performances both he and the coaching staff needed in order to nominate him as the starter in the playoffs. And the rest, as they say, is history.
That being said, fantasy poolies should expect Halak to start between 57-63 games next season and post quality numbers. It would not be a stretch to see him post a save percentage around .920 with a 2.50 goals-against average and a half-dozen shutouts. The biggest advantage for Halak in a Blues uniform will be his consistent minutes, which will allow him to play in a good rhythm for an extended amount of time. This will lead to him developing more of a starter mentality and a better understanding of what it takes to be a workhorse goalie in the NHL.
Any talk regarding Halak playing in a different system is null and void. Goalies, especially today’s hybrid netminders, are adaptive creatures. Of course there will be a transition for Halak, but by the time the regular season begins, he should be quite comfortable and fully prepared to embrace the challenge of handling the heaviest workload of his career. In all fantasy aspects, this is a move that greatly boosts Halak’s one-year and keeper-league value.
Just as Halak’s value (fantasy and talent) is boosted thanks to better opportunity, so too is Carey Price’s.
Pending a new contract (he’s still an RFA), Price will enter next season as Montreal’s undisputed starter. But with this newfound responsibility comes more pressure than ever before. Because of how well Halak performed down the stretch and in the playoffs, all eyes will be on Price to match and/or eclipse that performance. Those may not be fair expectations, but that’s the simple reality of playing in Montreal.
Right away, the trade boosts Price’s shaky confidence. The organization has now professed their full faith in him, and they are giving him the chance to develop into an NHL workhorse. But Price carries with him a much bigger ego. That ego is based around a certain sense of entitlement. And when that is not fulfilled (by being benched in favor of Halak), frustration can quickly boil over and severely impact the mental focus and the playing ability of that goalie. To me, this is a perfect example of what happened with Price last season.
Let’s be honest – it’s tough to live up to such high expectations when you only play once every two games, and it’s even tougher when another young star is slowly peeling away that ego. Because he wasn’t playing consistently, Price struggled to stay focused and it exposed an inability to handle the intermittent starts. It also exposed a lack of maturity late in the season and through the playoffs.
This was seen in many ways, including his sour attitude against Washington in the quarterfinals. He was caught firing pucks at them during a post-goal celebration and he even slashed Nicklas Backstrom in the back of the leg from the bench. Those isolated incidents speak volumes for the mental makeup of a goalie that lacks maturity and situational awareness.
Nevertheless, not much changes for Price on the ice. He still has tons of upside and plenty of elite skills. But he needs to keep working hard at developing better habits. In what could be considered the most crucial summer of his career, Price needs to keep honing his rebound control while also improving his focus and most importantly, attitude.
Since successful goaltending is 90% mental, Price’s areas of improvement will be of the mental variety. He must work hard between the ears during practices and games to develop good habits that will allow him to sustain a strong rhythm over the course of the entire season.
His 13-20-5 record, .912 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average fell well below expectations, as he often struggled to maintain composure in a number of games throughout the season. But it can be difficult to sustain a positive attitude when losses lead to being benched. Rarely was he given the chance to play through tough outings, as he split time with Halak for the entire season.
But now he’ll have a much easier time getting through any rough waters that arise next season. As the undisputed starter, expect Price to post similar numbers and workload to Halak in St. Louis. That means around 60 starts and close to a 2.50 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has a very solid skating style and wonderful butterfly technique, but it will be put to the test next season. Efficiency is the key, as preserving energy and staying even-keeled will go a long way in his ability to execute with power late in games and make that clutch or momentum-changing save.
Overall, you have to be excited for Price’s future, both short and long term. He will now take the next step in his career and get the chance to start around 60 games for the first time in his NHL career. With that increase in minutes comes an increase in confidence. And with that increase in confidence, the sky is the limit for Price and the Canadiens in the 2010-11 season. If he can learn to play with more maturity and eliminate negative reactions to things he cannot control, his game and his statistics will improve as a result.
Ty Conklin, who is 33 years old and set to make $1.4 million next season ($1.3 million cap hit), is the perfect fit for Halak’s backup. Praised by the organization for playing his best hockey on the road, he struggled mightily at home, but still finished the season with a 10-10-2 record, a quality .921 save percentage, 2.48 goals-against average and four shutouts. The highlight of his season was easily a 42-save shutout performance in Detroit on Dec. 9 against his former team.
Although it’s tough to decipher exactly why Conklin struggled at home but played so well on the road, one factor may have been the simplicity of the challenge. For a goalie that has just about seen it all, including three Winter Classic games, playing at home can lead to complacency in preparation. But when starting on the road, there’s a sense of urgency and a sense of responsibility that comes with leading a team to a win as an underdog.
Nevertheless, Conklin proved that he’s capable of filling just about any kind of backup role that exists. He’s an UFA after next season, so there will be plenty of urgency for him to play well in front of scouts in his limited starts. In order to further develop his reputation as a quality backup option, Conklin will need to maintain a positive attitude and strong work ethic in practice, which will help him turn around that home record when he gets the rare start.
Overall, Conklin is a great third goalie to own for any fantasy manager. If last season’s trend continues, starting him on the road is a solid strategy that will definitely generate results. His four shutouts in just 22 games is a jaw-dropping ratio, one that is definitely worth noting if you are looking for a hidden gem in that third goalie slot. And yes, all four of his shutouts came on the road.
Chris Mason, who was expected to sign a new deal with St. Louis before July 1, is now headed for unrestricted free agency. He will join a long list of other UFA goalies, including the likes of Marty Turco, Martin Biron, Dan Ellis and many, many more. From a fantasy perspective, this is about the worst thing that could have happened to him.
By making $3 million last season, he now carries the reputation of an over-priced “average” goalie that failed to meet the Blues’ expectations by failing to clinch a playoff spot. And with so many free agent goalies available and very few spots open for a starter, Mason will need to either take a massive pay cut or appeal to teams everywhere in order to find a job that will sustain or boost last season’s fantasy value.
Until that time comes, don’t invest much time in determining Mason’s future in the league. It’s anybody’s guess where he will end up, but it is safe to say he’s headed for a backup role, or a 1B role at the very most. Because there’s a strong sense of urgency to find a job, expect Mason to jump on any opportunity that comes his way. If he waits even a few weeks for a “better” opportunity, it may never come.
Cedrick Desjardins, who was in line for a potential promotion, will probably stay in the AHL for another season. It is reported that the Habs are looking to bring in a veteran UFA that will complement Price in an effective manner.
With that being said, Desjardins will probably spend another season leading the Hamilton Bulldogs back to the playoffs. Desjardins had an unbelievable regular season, one that went a long way to boosting his future fantasy value. The arrival of a new backup in Montreal won’t destroy his value, but rather put it on hold for another year. There’s nothing wrong with more AHL conditioning, but it’s still a downer due to the fact a potential opportunity never materialized.
It should also be noted that Curtis Sanford is set to become an UFA on July 1, but there’s very little chance that he gets nominated to be Price’s backup next season. Nor is it clear whether or not Montreal has plans for him to play with Desjardins in Hamilton.