It’s inevitably going to happen whenever Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price faces off against ex-teammate Jaroslav Halak. People are going to compare the two. They shouldn’t though.
Price vs. Halak
It’s human nature to want to see how two players stack up against another, especially when those two players used to be teammates at the same position and one was effectively traded to make room for the other. So, to get it out of the way, it’s relatively even over their two careers.
Halak is 242-155-50 in 468 games. Price is one away from 300 wins in his career at 299-210-66. Curiously though, Halak has the higher winning percentage (.517 vs. 511). Price meanwhile has slight edges in goals-against averages (2.48 vs. 2.49) and save percentages (.918 vs. .916). They’ve each reached a conference final too.
Where the two begin to diverge is with regard to their reputations. Halak, in spite of his longevity and success has rarely entered into the conversation as an elite goalie. Price, between the Olympic gold medal he won in 2014 and his Vezina Trophy nomination in 2017, was widely regarded as one of the pre-eminent backstops in the world if not the absolute best.
Halak Gets Demoted
It was coincidentally that 2016-17 season during which Halak’s career reached a low. With his performance dwindling as a New York Islander, following previous stops with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, he was demoted to the American Hockey League.
If the story were to end there, as many probably thought it might at the time, declaring the Habs the undisputed victors in the trade that sent Halak to the Blues may have made sense. That’s even with neither of the two players the Habs got in exchange, Ian Schultz and Lars Eller, working out into the long term.
After all, when then-Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier made the move in June 2010, it was in retrospect more to do with giving Price a vote of confidence than capitalizing on Halak’s playoff heroics that past spring on the trade market. It took some time, but Price did not disappoint Habs fans for the confidence the organization placed in him time and again.
You can definitely argue he’s been a disappointment recently, after having signed an eight-year, $84 million extension, though. Having earned a save percentage of ~.900 since he first signed it two summers ago, Price’s play has left something to be desired, to be kind.
Price Gets Mediocre
In fact, cracks in Price’s armor showed up over an extended period of time back in 2016-17, when he still ended up being a Vezina finalist. Over the course of 19 games (a third of the season) between December and February, Price posted a 6-10-3 record with a .898 save percentage, a stretch that culminated in then-head coach Michel Therrien getting fired.
So, his recent mediocrity isn’t as new of a development as many might think, to the point that current Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin probably should have approached negotiations with more trepidation. He didn’t and this is where we are now.
Even if Price hasn’t been playing like a Hart Memorial Trophy candidate, he’s arguably still the most valuable player of the Canadiens currently, as the team works out its defensive issues. Take away the deal anyone in his position would have signed and you still have a capable No. 1 goalie, who’s just no longer capable of covering up all his team’s miscues in their own zone like he was in the past.
This week’s 4-0 shutout loss at the hands of Halak’s Boston Bruins was further proof of just how much Price has been hung out to dry by an inadequate blue line. It also sparked somewhat of a debate as to whether the Habs would have been better off keeping Halak, who his putting together an pretty impressive comeback campaign. He’s 10-5-2 with a 2.27 GAA and .929 save percentage, which ranks among the league leaders, all in spite of an injury-ravaged Bruins defense corps playing in front of him.
No Excuses for Price and No Take-Backs
Needless to say, the Shea Weber injury is no excuse for Price, who, in contrast, is 13-9-4 with a mediocre 2.94 GAA and .901 save percentage. You can probably see the wheels spinning in the minds of his most-vocal critics as we speak. However, such a premise is far removed from reality and not just because a time machine would be required to undo a transaction that occurred eight and a half years ago.
For starters, Halak’s recent success is over a mere 19 games. He spent 27 in the AHL two seasons ago. Second of all, there’s no telling how Halak would have fared in Price’s place since 2010. The underlying circumstances in the careers of each goalie have been so different that no one can assume Halak could have put up the same reasonably successful numbers he did over the last eight seasons as a Hab instead.
Knowing his body of work, it might be fair to say he’d have admirably brought a consistent effort level in the Canadiens crease, performing at a slightly above-league-average clip on the whole. However, with the league-average save percentage being what it is now, (.907), that’s effectively what the Habs have got in Price as he trends upward following a disastrous November. So, you might be coming out even, but giving back all of Price’s accolades over the years. That would hardly be a fair trade.
All you can really say with any kind of certainty is the Habs could use the Halak of today, now. And that’s really only if you’re operating under the assumption the Canadiens should be looking to win now. Their defense hasn’t just been overwhelmed by injury but has been patched together with so little forethought and reckless abandon that, even when healthy, they probably wouldn’t stand a chance in the playoffs if the Price of old were in nets.
It’s easy to play “what if “here, but it’s not healthy. It’s similar to following an acrimonious break-up when you chose one person over another… especially eight years after the fact. Things may not be going smoothly with you and your significant other right now, but you shouldn’t want to trade the eight years you had together just because the person you dumped is doing better presently.
In Halak’s case, his current good fortune has come following a few seasons of middling numbers, to the point that you should probably just feel happy for the guy that he’s finally found lasting success again. That is, if it does end up lasting, because nothing’s for certain in this business, least of all how one player would perform on a completely different team in place of someone else.
Price critics may think they’re flattering Halak, but it’s long since time to let him go, because chances are good he wouldn’t want to come back, as then he would never escape Price’s shadow. The comparisons whenever the two face each other are likely more than enough for him at this point, even as he continues to find success in those games.
A simple “good for him” is all he needs. He’s doing fine these days, in case you haven’t heard. And chances are good Price will be doing fine eventually too. Now’s no time to waiver in your confidence in him. It wouldn’t have done you any good then when the Halak trade had been made. It definitely won’t now, with eight years left in Price’s deal.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.