Recently, NHL-insider Darren Dreger put out a Tweet speculating whether the Vancouver Canucks would consider trading Jaroslav Halak before his $1.25 million bonus kicked in. According to CapFriendly, that bonus will be paid the minute he starts his tenth game. As of this writing, he has played eight games behind starter Thatcher Demko and with four more back-to-backs scheduled, he might not get into many more games. If Demko keeps playing like a Vezina Trophy finalist for the rest of the season, head coach Bruce Boudreau won’t feel the need to use him very often.
Having said that, president and interim general manager Jim Rutherford might still hesitate to move him. Don’t forget, there is still uncertainty around the number of games the Canucks will play in the month of February. With the NHL bowing out of the Olympics, those two weeks could be filled with more back-to-backs in order to make up for the games that were postponed in December and January. There is also the small issue of the no-movement clause (NMC) former GM Jim Benning gave to the veteran netminder when he signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason.
Despite all that, I believe the Canucks should still look at trading Halak. The NMC will throw a wrench into things, but given his age and passion to win a Stanley Cup, they might be able to convince him to waive it for the right team and situation. Like Matt Sekeres said, “the big picture is more important.” The more draft picks they can get in the 2022 and 2023 Drafts, the better as they both contain a plethora of talent in the early rounds. So, with all that said, let’s take a look at three teams that might be interested.
It’s no secret that the Edmonton Oilers’ primary weakness is goaltending. Veteran starter Mike Smith has been injury-prone this season and Mikko Koskinen has been mediocre at best. After starting the season on a ridiculous 9-1-0 run, they have lost 15 of 24 and now sport a record of 18-14-2. What once was a team destined for the playoffs is now on the cusp of missing them altogether. If they have any sort of Stanley Cup aspirations this season, GM Ken Holland needs to address the goaltending, and soon.
I’m not saying Halak is the answer to all the Oilers’ problems, but he certainly would help. He may have a record of 1-4-2 with the Canucks, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Whenever he gets in the crease, the goals dry up in front of him. In his eight starts, they have scored a grand total of 13 goals. In fact, in five of them, they could only score one. The most they have scored for him is four and that was against the Columbus Blue Jackets in their 4-3 comeback win.
Halak’s numbers this season have been good considering the team that was in front of him for seven of his eight starts. He currently has a 2.59 goals-against average (GAA) and .915 save percentage (SV%) along with four quality starts. If his last start is any indication of future success, the Oilers will be happy. He stood on his head against the Los Angeles Kings making 34 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss.
As for what the Canucks could get for Halak, they could be looking at a second or third-round pick or a prospect like Tyler Benson who might need a change of scenery. Since being a highly-touted youngster in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Vancouver Giants, the 23-year-old has only played 24 games in the NHL. He currently has two career assists and is still looking for his first NHL goal.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights aren’t as desperate for goaltending help as the Oilers, but they might still need a boost in that area. Since losing the great tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, the crease does not look as strong as it used to be. Lehner’s numbers this season aren’t pretty as he currently sports a 3.03 GAA and .905 SV% in 24 starts. His backup, Laurent Brossoit hasn’t fared much better as he only has slightly better numbers with a 2.78 GAA and .900 SV%. Despite that, they still lead the Pacific Division with 45 points. With a league-leading 129 goals-for, they seem to be outscoring their problems in goal.
So, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Golden Knights would be looking for options to upgrade their goaltending. In a smaller sample size, Halak’s numbers are better than both Lehner and Brossoit’s. His cap hit is also manageable, and we all know how easy it seems to be for the Golden Knights to massage the cap to their benefit. Even though they will be tight against it going into the trade deadline next month, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a few trades to bolster their lineup for a lengthy playoff run.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL right now in Jack Campbell. His numbers are Vezina Trophy-like, as he is running with a sparkling 1.78 GAA and .939 SV% along with four shutouts. He is one of the main reasons why his team has won four straight and are only four points back of the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning who have played three more games than them.
The problem is, Campbell can’t play all the time, no matter how much head coach Sheldon Keefe wants him to. The plan was to split starts with Petr Mrazek, but that hasn’t happened so far this season. To date, he has only started three games because of injury and COVID. In those three games, he has a 4.12 GAA and .880 SV%. The other backup options they have tried in Michael Hutchinson and Joseph Woll have not worked out as long-term replacements either as they both have only started five games in relief of him.
Halak could be the answer if Mrazek gets moved at the deadline. He’s an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the season and he’s used to playing behind a clear-cut number one goaltender. Since being a consistent starter with the Montreal Canadiens and St. Louis Blues, he has backed up Tuukka Rask and most recently Demko. His cap hit is also $2.3 million less than Mrazek’s.
Justin Holl might be a scapegoat for many Leafs fans, but he could be a good fit with the Canucks. With the right side being a weakness, he could slot in behind Tyler Myers and Tucker Poolman. Before his defensive issues this season, he was a solid two-way shutdown defenceman in the mould of Travis Hamonic. He can also kill penalties and add depth to a defence core that has been ravaged by injury and COVID in recent weeks.
If not him, the Canucks could also look to a draft pick or mid-level prospect like Nicholas Abruzzese or Roni Hirvonen (although, given his performance at the 2022 World Juniors he likely would cost more than just Halak). They are both centers with high motors and skill which could supplement the team’s now very shallow prospect pool.
It’s Time For the Canucks To Ride Demko
If everyone hasn’t figured it out already, the Canucks are Demko’s team right now. He has also proven to be one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season. If not for the two games in November where he allowed 13 goals, he would be right there with Campbell, Frederik Andersen and Tristan Jarry. When you eliminate those games, he has a 2.24 GAA and .930 SV%. If those aren’t Vezina Trophy-like numbers, I don’t know what are.
Demko has proven that is a legitimate number-one goaltender in the NHL. He no longer needs the veteran presence of a Halak or Braden Holtby anymore. The apprentice is ready to become the master. However, considering the fact that he will be playing a lot in the coming months, I don’t think it’s time for Mikey DiPietro to sit on the bench as his backup. He is better off playing a lot in the minors. So, if Halak is in fact moved, a guy like Spencer Martin should take that seat. Next season, though, he should start his role as the Padawan to the Jedi that is now Demko.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.