For Boston Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak, it was clearly more about quality with his latest one-year, $2.25 million extension than quantity. Regardless, he got some of the latter too.
Halak’s Career Highs and Lows
Halak could have theoretically made more come free agency (whenever that will be), term especially. Nevertheless, the 35-year-old will get a $1.25 million bonus assuming he plays 10 games. Considering he’s played at least 16 every season since 2007-08 with the Montreal Canadiens, including 2016-17 with the New York Islanders when he got demoted to the American Hockey League, that bonus is as good as his.
If the 2010 playoffs with the Habs are the highlight of Halak’s career, the demotion was probably the low point. After all, the Islanders had acquired him, ironically for the pick that would become upstart-goalie Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers, to become their new No. 1. It obviously didn’t work out.
Statistically, Halak was okay with the Islanders. However, of the four seasons he was with the team, he only dressed for playoff games in his first. Despite the Isles also making it in his second season (and making it to the second round for the first time since 1993), he had lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss at that point.
Greiss would eventually lose it back to Halak after he got recalled from the minors. However, Halak failed to rebound in 2017-18, despite getting the lion’s share of starts once again. As it had been his final season under contract with the Islanders, Halak was forced into signing for less than the $4.5 million he had just earned on average. Thankfully, for both parties, the Bruins were there to pick up the pieces, signing him to a two-year, $5.5 million deal that offseason. It has been a marriage made in heaven.
Sweeney Thinks Outside the Box
Credit general manager Don Sweeney for thinking outside the box both then and now, considering the Bruins’ current salary-cap situation. They’re right up against the ceiling. Officially keeping Halak’s salary flat at $2.25 million gives Sweeney some added flexibility, as he can exceed the cap care of a performance bonus cushion.
Meanwhile, technically giving Halak a raise to $3.5 million keeps Halak happy, especially since he’s earned it as one of the best NHL backups. It also gives Tuukka Rask a reliable goalie who can give him a night off every so often without worrying.
For the record, Halak qualifies for the bonus as a (soon-to-be) 35-year-old. However, the risk is minimal for a few reasons, namely because the deal is only for one year. He’s also been relatively consistent since signing as an unrestricted free agent. He is 18-6-6 this season with a 2.39 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Last season he was 22-11-4 with a 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage.
In effect, it took him most of his career, but Halak has found his niche as a No. 1B. It’s kind of the same situation he found himself in with the Habs, when he went on that three-round heater in 2010. He just got hot at the right time, whereas Carey Price still had yet to find the consistency that would become his hallmark at the peak of his career.
The comparisons between Price and Halak will always be made, even though they shouldn’t. They’re two different goalies. In many ways, the Habs should probably prefer to have Halak at his deal than Price at his, but Halak has settled into his role as Rask’s backup. It’s where he’ll be most effective, playing with a contender in front of him, positioning himself for another decent deal once this new one expires.
Halak Still Keeping Options Open
There’s a good chance Halak could have broken into $4 million territory again on the open market. However, any team requiring a true No. 1 that would have given him the money likely wouldn’t have given him a shot at a Stanley Cup, like the Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings.
Even if Halak did go for the money and term, at his age not only would it likely be his last kick at the can, playing for a likely non-playoff team no less. He would also have just been seen as a stop-gap measure. Really, he would be a No. 1 in name only, as whoever signed him would have one eye toward the future in net. That would be the only prudent thing for any team in that situation to do anyway.
This way, re-signing with the Bruins for one more season, Halak can re-assess his situation at this point next year, that is, if he isn’t still contending for a Stanley Cup next May. That’s what it’s all about, or at least should be… winning. This way, both he and the Bruins have the best chance to do just that.