Montreal Canadiens: Reuniting Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak Would End Playoff Drought

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 16: Goalie Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens comes in the game in the second period to replace Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 16, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA - MAY 16: Goalie Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens comes in the game in the second period to replace Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 16, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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The Montreal Canadiens have been forced to use Carey Price far too often for the second straight year. Bringing back Jaroslav Halak would put an end to that problem.

The Montreal Canadiens once had quite the goaltending controversy on their hands. Back in 2010, they had a pair of young goaltenders in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. Both were promising goaltenders, both were restricted free agents in need of new contracts and both wanted to be starting goaltenders so signing the two of them wold be impossible.

The Canadiens, then led by general manager Pierre Gauthier had a difficult choice to make. Price was taken fifth overall in the 2005 NHL Draft and showed a lot of promise. His numbers were okay in parts of three seasons with the Habs, but he was just 22 years old and was tabbed to be the franchise goaltender four years earlier when he was drafted.

Halak was taken two years earlier than Price, but eight rounds later. In a portion of the draft that doesn’t even exist anymore, the Canadiens took a chance on a small, Slovakian netminder with the 271st selection in 2003. He was 24 years old in 2010 and had put up excellent numbers with the Canadiens and Hamilton Bulldogs over the previous four years.

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Complicating matters, and giving the Canadiens an enviable problem to have, Halak had carried the team on his back to the Eastern Conference Final by standing on his head against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Gauthier had a difficult choice. Stick with the original plan and keep Price? Or trade Price and go with the guy who just carried your team on their longest playoff run since they won the Stanley Cup 17 years earlier?

We all know they decided to go with Price and his body of work tells us they made the correct choice. Where the Canadiens have had difficulty the past few years is who will be the number two behind Price?

In 2010-11, with Halak traded to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, the Canadiens signed Alex Auld to play second fiddle. Price started 72 games that season so Auld wasn’t very busy but he posted an impressive 6-2-2 record in his ten starts. That would be Auld’s only year in Montreal and Peter Budaj played a solid backup role for the next three seasons.

Dustin Tokarski provided reliable netminding when called upon during Price’s Hart and Vezina Trophy winning season of 2014-15. Since then though, it has been a bit of a mess behind Price. Al Montoya was okay one season but awful in four starts the next year which left the Habs scrambling for a second option. They tried Charlie Lindgren before claiming Antti Niemi off waivers.

Niemi was great in 19 games to end the 2017-18 season, but struggled the following year. This left Price to play almost every night for the final two months of last season as the Canadiens tried to reel in a playoff spot. It was far too heavy of a workload for a goaltender who has battled injuries several times in his career.

The Canadiens signed Keith Kinkaid to be the Habs backup this season after he posted a 3.36 goals against average and a .891 save percentage with the New Jersey Devils last season. Kinkaid was not able to provide reliable relief for the Canadiens, so they were left scrambling for a second straight year. They now have Charlie Lindgren filling the role of backup goaltender, but in four starts he has a 3.48 GAA and a .880 SV%.

Last night, Price started against the Dallas Stars. It was his third start in four days after losing to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night and falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. He played well early, but allowed a suspect goal in the third period to tie the game and was pretty slow moving across his crease on Tyler Seguin’s overtime winner.

Price is the highest paid goaltender in the league, but he can’t play every night. The Habs need to find a reliable backup so Price isn’t playing 65 games every year and to reduce the chances he gets injured once again.

Re-signing Niemi for last season and bringing in Kinkaid this season came with a few red flags. They were veterans who had poor numbers in the past and were looking to bounce back from subpar performances. Electing to go this route for a third straight year would be a huge mistake.

The Canadiens need to find a better backup goaltender for Price if they plan on making the playoffs next season. Many great teams are going with tandems in goal where one guy starts 50 games and the “backup” gets 30 starts.

The Canadiens seem to purposely be avoiding this scenario and keep going into seasons planning on using Price in 65-70 games. I don’t know if they are trying to justify his huge salary by letting him play every night, but it is a mistake. They have to find Price a capable backup so he has an opportunity to justify his huge salary in the postseason. Who cares if you pay him $10.5 million to start 50 games if he stands on his head in the playoffs?

Price has not had a better battery mate than Halak in his career. Next season, the Habs should be looking to reunite the pair. After leaving Montreal, Halak put up solid numbers as the starter in St. Louis for four years. He then signed with the New York Islanders where he formed a great tandem with Tomas Greiss for three years. The past two seasons has seen Halak be the 1B option in Boston behind Tuukka Rask.

Halak started 40 games for the Bruins last season and has played 26 already this year. His SV% has been just over .920 both years as he provides exceptional relief work for Rask. Once the playoffs began, Rask started every night, but he was fresh and ready for a long playoff run that ended in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Halak will be 35 years old this summer when he becomes a free agent after fulfilling a two-year contract that had a cap hit of $2.75 million. He would probably be looking for a small raise on a short-term contract but he would be worth every penny to give Price a backup goaltender he can count on.

Last time we saw Halak in Montreal it was being written on stop signs because of how well he played in the 2010 postseason. A decade later he is still a great goalie and could be willing to return to Montreal to play 30 games or so next year and give his old crease partner a bit of a break.

This would allow Price to be more rested down the stretch and in the playoffs. Having a quality, rested goaltender in net 82 times next season would give them an excellent chance at making the playoffs for the first time in four years.

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The Canadiens are already spending a lot of money on goaltending. But to get the best out of Price he can’t be playing three games in four nights in February like he just did. Instead of trying to find a cheap, veteran backup who used to be good, the Habs should spend a little of the cap space they have been hoarding for years and find a reliable second goaltender.