Bruins’ Halak Showing His Worth as Backup Goalie

Tuukka Rask signed his current eight-year, $56 million contract with the Boston Bruins on July 10, 2013. Rask has proved to be worth the investment that then-general manager (GM) Peter Chiarelli made with two trips to the Stanley Cup Final since inking the deal. 

After Chiarelli was fired in April 2015, the Bruins hired former defenseman Don Sweeney as general manager. Over the years, Sweeney has had some good and bad signings, but one of the best signings to date by the five-year GM happened in July 2018 when he signed Jaroslav Halak to be a backup to Rask.

Career Before Boston

Halak had just completed his fourth year with the New York Islanders a few months before signing in Boston on July 1, 2018. Winning 88 games for the Islanders, Halak hit the open market after New York declined to sign him. Sweeney jumped at the chance to sign the 13-year veteran and was able to sign what has turned out to be very team-friendly, two-year, $5.5 million contract.

Jaroslav Halak
Jaroslav Halak (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Considering Halak’s career numbers with four different NHL teams, Sweeney hit the jackpot. Drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the ninth round of the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft, he spent two years in his home country of Slovakia playing in the Tipsport Liga and then one year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before making it to Montreal in 2006. He went on to win 56 games in four years for the Canadiens before being traded in 2010 to the St. Louis Blues and proceeded to win 83 games in four years.

Halak was traded to the Washington Capitals for 12 games during the 2013-14 season, before being traded to the Islanders’ where he won 88 games. During his tenure in New York, he won 11 straight games during the 2014-15 season and set the franchise record for victories with 38 that year. After his contract expired with the Islanders, Sweeney and the Bruins front office found themselves signing a big piece to the Bruins for the next two years.

Signs With Boston

Signed as a backup to Rask, Halak turned out to be more valuable than his expected role for $5.5 million in the 2018 free agent class that included defenseman John Moore. Last season, Rask played in only 46 regular-season games, his third-lowest total in his career for a single season. That proved to pay dividends during the playoffs, which allowed a more rested starting goalie to play in all 24 playoff games in a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Boston Bruins Jaroslav Halak
Boston Bruins goaltender Jaroslav Halak (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Halak started 37 games last year and went 22-11-4. He posted a 2.34 goals against average (GAA) and .922 save percentage (SV%) with five shutouts, which isn’t too bad for a backup goalie. Sitting behind Rask, coach Bruce Cassidy showed confidence in the veteran to start him in 37 games.

2019-20 Stats Better Than Last Year

In his second season with Boston, Halak has proved his value even more to the Bruins. He currently is fourth in the NHL with a 2.25 GAA and .928 SV% in 17 games with a 9-4-5 record. Just past the midway point of their season, Halak has allowed Rask to rest more.

Halak earned his 50th career shutout and his third of the season on Dec. 27 in a 3-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Breaking down his numbers, Halak is 3-0-1 against the Atlantic Division teams with seven goals allowed and a 1.72 GAA. Against the Metropolitan Division, he has a 4-1-3 record with 19 goals allowed and a 2.31 GAA. A combined 7-1-4 record against possible playoff opponents would give the Bruins confidence if Halak was forced between the pipes in the playoffs.

Seven other goalies were selected to the All-Star Game with Rask, but one stat that sticks out in favor of the Bruins net-minder is the number of games he has played compared to the other goalies thanks to Halak. Connor Hellebuyck has played in 35 games for the Winnipeg Jets, while Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs had appeared in 33 games. Joonas Korpisalo of the Columbus Blue Jackets has played in 32, with Jordan Binnington of the Blues and Braden Holtby of the Capitals each have appeared in 30 games for their respective teams. Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks, who was added after Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury backed out of the game last week, has played in 29 games and Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes has made 25 appearances. Rask has played in only 25 games like Kuemper, which allows the veteran to take get more rest.

Decision Coming on Halak

Sweeney will have some contracts that expire at the end of the season and he will have some decisions to make for the 2020-21 season. One decision that should be easy for the Bruins’ general manager should be the backup goalie situation. With no goalie down with Boston’s American Hockey League team the Providence Bruins ready to be the full-time backup for Rask (who has two more years remaining on his contract), it would be wise of Sweeney to make Halak a priority in the offseason.