The Habs dealt goaltender Jaroslav Halak today to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for prospects Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. With rumors swirling that Halak would be the netminder to be dealt by Montreal this offseason, this shouldnít come as much of a surprise to anyone. Whenever you have an asset that becomes significantly overvalued, you should at least consider trading that asset and that appears to be the case with Montreal, who found a willing partner in this deal in St. Louis.
Though this deal came to fruition, not long ago before Halak became a playoff star for the first two rounds against the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, and back when Bob Gainey was still the General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, rumors persisted of a deal sending the 25 year old goaltender to Philadelphia in exchange for the young right winger Claude Giroux. Having two young and talented goaltenders on your squad is a luxury when you have other problems that need to be addressed and the Canadiens could have filled an immediate need in the deal for Giroux, while still having Carey Price on the roster. However, Montreal decided to wait until now and this deal certainly has some potential for the Habs.
Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak
Based on how the media reacted to Jaroslav Halakís play during the regular season and his heroics in the postseason, it might have appeared to have been a foregone conclusion that Price would be the one parting with the team. But would that have been the right choice? Well, letís take a look at whether the Canadiens selected the right goaltender to deal this afternoon.
On April 5th, Olivier Bouchard of En Attendant Les Nordiques wrote on the topic of Montrealís two promising goaltenders. Olivier came to the conclusion that Halak wasnít nearly as much of an improvement over Price as many have portrayed him to be, considering that Halak had been luckier in terms of offensive support and Price has been as good as Halak away from the Bell Centre. In other words, Price and Halak have been nearly equal performance-wise once luck is factored out.
Using my Puck Prospectus colleague Rob Vollmanís statistic, the Quality Start, which is defined here, we can examine these two players from another angle by removing the goal support their offense provides from the equation. This past year a Quality Start constituted a game in which the goaltender posted a .917 save percentage or higher, up .004 from the year prior.
Goaltender Quality Starts Non-Quality Starts Quality Start Percentage
Jaroslav Halak 25 18 58.1%
Carey Price 18 21 46.2%
Based on each goaltenderís ability to keep his team in each game this past year, Halak performed better. A 12% difference in Quality Starts is pretty significant, considering that the total range for the league is about 30%. However, letís not get carried away as this is only one seasonís worth of stats (small sample size). So letís then take a look at the year prior.
In 2008-09, Halak had barely half of his games as Quality Starts, with 51.5% of his 33 games with a .913+ save percentage. Price, on the other hand, had 29 out of 49 for 59.2%. Over the past two years, that puts both goalies close, with Halak having 42 Quality Starts to 34 Non-Quality Starts for 55.2%, and Price having 47 to 41 for 53.4%. So it appears that, adjusting for goal support, that these goaltenders have been nearly interchangeable.
The Canadiens also love wasting Priceís Quality Starts. This year they wasted 44.4% of the games in which Montrealís backup goaltender gave his team a chance to win, and last year wasnít much different either, with a nearly identical 44.8% Wasted Quality Start Percentage. In comparison, only 24.0% of Halakís Quality Starts were wasted this year and only 17.6% were wasted last year.
Only Tomas Vokoun and Miikka Kiprusoff have more Wasted Quality Starts than Price over the last two years, and in the case of Calgaryís netminder he only makes the Wasted Quality Starts list because of the number of Quality Starts he has to get washed.
As Rob Vollman says, ďeither they're using Price against better teams, or they just aren't playing in front of him.Ē
Behind The Net Hockeyís Gabriel Desjardins is in agreement as well that Halak and Price, despite the way Halak (and Montreal) played down the stretch, have had similar careers in the NHL:
Shots Saves Save Percentage
Halak 3,250 2,984 918.2
Price 4,525 4,119 910.3
*As of April 27, 2010
Save Percentage Halak Price
Even Strength .925 .921
Special Teams .893 .871
*As of April 27, 2010
We can see that all of the numbers are fairly close to each other. The one fairly large discrepancy, which is in special teams save percentage, is partially the result of Carey Price playing more short-handed minutes over his career than Jaroslav Halak has.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the former first round netminder is still only 22 years of age, which my Puck Prospectus colleague Philip Myrland, who runs Brodeur Is A Fraud, suggests could be a reason why he has appeared to struggle so early in his career as a Canadien.
So while the perceived difference in value appeared to be large between Halak and Price, though to be fair we donít know how GMís view these two, the actual difference appears to be very little. Given that the 5í11íí lefty goalie was likely to bring in more of a return, it made sense for the Canadiens to move him in a deal where they got a good return.
With the 25 year old Slovakian in St. Louis, the Blues filled an immediate hole, assuming he remains as good as heís been in the NHL thus far. With a $600,000 salary in 2009-10, all Halak needed to do was produce greater than a 0.9 GVT to have a positive net value to his team. He did more than that, leading Montreal in overall production with a 19.2 GVT, giving him a GVS of +18.3 (A Goals-Versus-Salary greater than +10 means that the player was very productive relative to his salary).
He could be worth the long-term contract heís likely to get from St. Louis based on the goaltending talent analysis that my Puck Prospectus colleague Tom Awad did here that found the 271st overall pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft to be the fourth most talented goaltender in the NHL. Then again, considering that annual goaltending performance has a high variance, that he hasnít been in the NHL for very long, and that heíd be one injury away from becoming a sunk cost, he could very well end up turning into a bust for the St. Louis Blues.
As for the Habs, if Price and Halak are as close in talent to one another as suspected, then the Canadiens will not miss a beat in goal. For the near future their backup insurance policy becomes a bigger question mark, and if things donít work out with Price they risk spending excessive amounts of money on a mediocre goaltender either though a signing in the 2011-2012 offseason or through taking on a contract in the middle of next year. Blues netminder Chris Mason, currently an unrestricted free agent, led his team in GVT with an 11.2 mark, but appears to be the odd man out now with St. Louis making its latest acquisition.
Puck Prospectus scout Corey Pronmanís take on prospects C Lars Eller and RW Ian Schultz:
Lars Eller, Center, Drafted 1st round 13th overall in 2007: I have been a Lars Eller fan for a while, and going into the 2007 draft, I thought of the Danish product as one of my surefire top 10 prospects. Heís gone under the radar because of where he grew up, Denmark, and because of where he played up until last year, Sweden. But make no mistake about it, Eller is the absolutely the real deal. He has a great, smooth skating stride, he doesnít have plus-plus speed but is very shifty and can definitely skate well with NHL players. Heís at his best with the puck on his stick as he can be an elusive puck-handler and is an excellent playmaker. Eller displays a solid all-around game as he comes back hard on defense, plays an excellent penalty kill and also has some grit to his game. He wonít be a sniper at the highest level, although he definitely has an average shot that could beat NHL goalies. He has produced at every level heís played at. The last two yearís stats may be influenced because Peoria, the Bluesí AHL team was simply horrific and Ellerís 57 points led the team despite taking some time to play on the big club. Itís also important to mention that he was suffering from mononucleosis at the beginning of the year. In the SEL he produced excellent numbers for a 19 year old, despite having played just over ten minutes per game. Heís a very talented player who I can project as a good first line center; however he may be one or two years away from being a significant contributor.
Ian Schultz, Right Wing, Drafted 3rd round 87th overall in 2008: Schultz is never going to be a point-producer by any stretch of the imagination. His future in the NHL, if he has one, is going to be one of those gritty, character guys that play on a teamís 4th line and heís a borderline 3rd liner. He has a solid frame that heís grown into, and plays well in the physical aspects of the game especially when the puck gets down low. He can be undisciplined at times and takes bad penalties, be it from over-aggression or an occasional lazy penalty. Ian can skate well which will be the main factor if he does become an NHL checker, and while he does show the occasional flash of offense, itís not enough to the point where he can project as a significant scorer of any sort. He still has some development ahead of him, and a proper adjustment to the pro game next year in Hamilton will go a long way for Schultz.
Follow Corey on Twitter at @coreypronman.
Corey Pronman is a contributor to Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey site The Hock Project. You can contact him at CPronman@fau.edu.
Andrew Rothstein is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.