By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Over the last four seasons, Jaroslav Halak’s 177 appearances ranks as the 25th-most among NHL goaltenders. His .913 save percentage over that span ranks as the 24th-best among goalies with at least 160 games in net. And Halak entered the open market as one of just a few free agent goaltenders with legitimately consistent experience as a starting NHL goaltender.
So, why did Halak decide to join the Bruins on a two-year, $2.75 million per year deal to serve as Tuukka Rask’s backup?
“They have a great team,” the 33-year-old Halak, who won 20 of his 52 decisions for a woeful Isles team last season, said. “A lot of talent; the city is great and obviously fans, as well. Every time we play there, it is exciting to play in that building, and it’s so hard to play against all the time..I think, it was the best for me, my family, and I’m just looking forward to becoming a Boston Bruin. It’s an Original Six team and a lot of history, and it doesn’t come every day.”
If everything truly works out for the Bruins — meaning Rask is healthy and effective, and the Bruins are contenders — this role will be an undeniable step backwards for Halak, who is admittedly unsure of his projected start totals with the Bruins.
“That’s a tough question because it’s a long season,” said Halak. “I’ve seen it in the past – we’ll find out. Like I said, whenever I get a chance, or they tell me to play, I’ll try to play then and do my best. We’ll see, we’ll find out at the end of the year.”
But there’s more to Halak’s presence than just being a suitable or equal replacement to Anton Khudobin, who departed for Dallas on a two-year deal worth $5 million on Sunday, according to Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.
The Bruins want Halak to show the ability to bring the best out of Rask, much like Khudobin’s hot November did last season.
“I’m hopeful, on all of those fronts, to tell you the truth,” Sweeney said when asked about Halak pushing Rask. “You know, we’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka was back to backs. There’s a lot of stress on the goalies. I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time. I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it. Again, I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now, going in every night, that that’s an area we aren’t going to be concerned about hopefully. Obviously, it’s the performance now.”
And while it’s relatively outdated, Halak does bring legitimate postseason experience to the backup slot.
He carried the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010 by way of his nine wins and .923 save percentage in 18 games. Halak’s last postseason experience came in 2015, when he posted 2.30 goals against average and .926 save percentage in a seven-game round one loss to the Capitals. Overall, he has 13 wins and a .924 in his 30 career playoff appearances.
“I’ll try to help out any way I can,” offered Halak. “I’ll try to fit in as soon as possible. We’ll see what happens. I’m 33, I know Tuukka [Rask] is a little younger than me. I’m just looking forward to be with him. I know he’s an elite goalie and he proved that every year. Every time I get the chance, I’ll try to help out and we’ll see what happens.”
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.