General manager Chris Drury did the inevitable by trading long-time New York Rangers’ backup, Alexandar Georgiev to the Colorado Avalanche. To many, that move was easily predictable, but the part most questioned was who would replace him. That answer was found in veteran netminder Jaroslav Halak, who the Rangers inked to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million.
At 37 years old, Halak is a goaltender who has been relatively underrated throughout his career. He has 285 wins over his 16-year tenure with the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Boston Bruins, and Vancouver Canucks, and his 2.49 goals-against average (GAA) is the 40th best all-time.
In a minimal role with the Canucks last season, Halak had a 2.94 GAA and a .903 save percentage (SV%) in 14 starts. He will be asked to play slightly more with the Rangers, with the ideal mark of 22 games likely the target for the newest backup to Igor Shesterkin. Gerard Gallant and world-renowned goalie coach Benoit Allaire probably won’t want put strain on Shesterkin, who set a career-high for games played last season with 53.
Halak has already played in New York and understands the pressure that comes with it. Although last season was a down year for him, the veteran will offer stability behind Shesterkin in what the Rangers hope will be another successful season in the Big Apple.
Rangers’ Kryptonite Becomes Ally
Bringing Halak to the Rangers ensures one thing; the Rangers’ kryptonite will no longer be in the opposing goal next season. For the entirety of his career, the Slovakian goaltender has shined brightest under the lights of Madison Square Garden, as he possesses a sparkling 24-9-1 record against the Blueshirts, with a 2.33 GAA and .927 SV% to go along with five shutouts.
His best always stifled the Rangers’ offense, and Drury hopes the signing can translate his success against the Rangers to success with them. For Halak, the signing allows him to join a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, and despite his longevity and success, winning the ultimate prize has alluded him. After a down season in Vancouver, the competitive state on Broadway could rejuvenate him, who has always enjoyed the big stage.
The Rangers were not great defensively by any means, but they had a winning aura around them. In comparison, the Canucks were in despair early in the season, before Bruce Boudreau could temporarily right the ship. And when you look at last season’s stats, you realize he was highly comparable to Georgiev, in spite of the difference in situations.
Despite regression in 2021-22, Halak still posted a positive goals saved above average (GSAA) with 0.61 at five-on-five. His predecessor, Georgiev, had a minus-1.26 GSAA at five-on-five, so Halak is still an upgrade even though he underperformed last season. Shesterkin won’t need much help stylistically, but mentally, Halak will be able to provide wisdom to the Rangers’ young starter.
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Halak has had the secret to beating the Rangers and winning at MSG, a secret the Rangers hope can be flipped to victories for them at the world’s most famous arena.
What You See is What You Get From Halak
Consistency is one of the biggest reasons the Rangers couldn’t rely on Georgiev in the number two role. When given multiple games in a row, he was a solid netminder, but the Bulgarian-born goalie didn’t remain consistent as a backup.
With Halak, you know what you will get when he starts. He has started 531 games in his career, continuing to provide quality goaltending when he is called upon. During his prime as a starter and in his new role as a backup, the 37-year-old has given whatever team he was on a fighting chance.
Over his last four seasons with Boston and Vancouver, Halak has fully embraced the backup position, as he has given his team a quality start in at least 52.9 percent of his games. The veteran also allowed four or more goals only three times in the 17 games he appeared in last season.
Although not the above-average goaltender he once was, Halak will give an offensive team like the Rangers a chance to win every time he is in the crease. The Rangers averaged 3.05 goals per game last year, which was 17th in the league, and Halak gave up three or fewer goals in 14 of 17 appearances. That is a fighting chance, and after the rocky road that was Georgiev’s appearances the last few seasons, his veteran leadership and grit should be a calming influence on the Rangers’ backup position during the 2022-23 season.