While the NHL’s only game on Super Bowl Sunday might have been one too many for Cristobal Huet‘s liking, it was one too few for Jaroslav Halak.
With the Habs up 3-0 over the visiting Rangers, Huet allowed 5-straight goals over the final 37 minutes of play. The goals were not entirely his fault as the Rangers managed to use their muscle and their hustle to completely dominate a weary Montreal team. The Habs got off to a great start thanks to a sizzling powerplay that went 3-for-5, but they were unable to cope with the bruisin’ Blueshirts during 5-on-5 play.
Midway through the second period, after Brandon Dubinksy cut the Habs’ lead to one - 24 seconds after Michal Rozsival had broken the ice for New York – Jaroslav Halak took a quick glance in the direction of his coach. The back-up netminder, who very nearly saved Montreal’s season last year, has not had the chance to start a game in the NHL this year. And it looks like he might not get that opportunity.
Less than a month after getting the call to come up to Montreal, Halak is heading back down to Hamilton.
It will be interesting to see how the young Slovakian netminder handles this latest setback. Disappointed with being assigned to Hamilton straight out of training camp, Halak quickly regained his form after a slow start to the season; he posted a 9-7-2 record with a 2.26 GAA and a 0.922 save percentage before being called up to Montreal.
The 22-year old is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and it was earlier rumoured that he was thinking of playing in Russia if he did not see quality ice-time. While it is extremely unlikely that another NHL team will send Halak an offer sheet during the off-season, it is a real possibility that he could decide to sign a lucrative contract with a Russian team, in the same way that Alexander Perezhogin jumped ship after last season and signed with Russian Super League team Salavat Yulaev. Perezhogin’s salary jumped from $627 000 with the Habs to nearly $1.8 million.
The Canadiens’ organization obviously has tremendous faith that Carey Price has the potential to become a franchise goaltender. The only reason that Halak was even called up to Montreal was so that Price could log heavy minutes down in Hamilton. While Price’s development is important for the Canadiens, they should be careful not to alienate their other assets.
Yann Danis, who broke into both the AHL and the NHL with shutouts, now finds himself assigned to back-up duties for the Bulldogs. The 27-year old Lafontaine, Quebec native becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and will most certainly end his relationship with the Habs and look for opportunities elsewhere.
While Huet’s position right now as the Habs’ number one goaltender is unquestionable, he may not see much of a future in Montreal if Carey Price is stealing away starts down the stretch. The French goalie has done a good job of answering the critics who have questioned his ability to be a reliable netminder in this league. Last year he was named to the Eastern All-Star team, the previous year he led the league with the best save percentage (0.929), and last month he was the NHL’s Third Star, posting an 8-2-1 record, a 2.40 GAA, and notching one shutout. Huet has great skill, an uncanny calmness, and is a great team player. If he remains unsigned by July 1, he may be one of the hottest item’s in this year’s free agent market.
Imagine this worst case scenario:
As an unrestricted free agent, Huet signs long-term contract with another NHL team.
Jaroslav Halak, disappointed with his ice-time, bolts for Russia.
Yann Danis signs a one-year deal with a club willing to take a chance on him.
That leaves Carey Price as an untested number one puck-stopper and maybe Cedrick Desjardins as a backup? Not the most inspiring of situations – and that’s not even mentioning the fact that those 3 players could leave without the Habs getting any form of compensation.
The next few weeks will be telling as we’ll see how Halak reacts to being snubbed in Montreal, how Price fairs with the big boys again,and how Huet deals with the pressures of being the go-to netminder on a team hoping to capture the top spot in the East.