By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’m still not so sure that Bruins general manager Don Sweeney had a great offseason.
I mean, the Bruins swung and missed on both Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares, they didn’t fill the holes on their roster (namely on the right wing of their second line and in the middle of their third line), and the overall talent level of their roster appeared to take a hit. This isn’t to say that the Black and Gold are doomed and/or finished on Dec. 21, especially as health slowly returns to this team, but it felt like a classic bummer summer in the middle of a win-now window.
However, despite those misses and miscalculations of his internal options, the one move emerging as one that Sweeney absolutely, positively knocked out of the park is the signing of backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
A move that should not have been considered anything close to a lock.
It was easy to see Halak’s struggles with the New York Islanders and blame it on the horrific defense and obvious lack of structure in front of him. In fact, it was easy to see how a move to Boston’s system would benefit the veteran netminder.
But no matter the system, Halak was coming to Boston to replace Anton Khudobin, a fan favorite and goaltender that had been downright fantastic as Tuukka Rask’s backup (even challenging for the starting job at one point) upon the promotion of Bruce Cassidy as the team’s head coach, with a 22-7-7 record and .915 save percentage in his two-year return to The Hub.
Including goaltenders that played at least 20 NHL games (but not more than 40) from when Cassidy took over as the B’s coach through the end of last season, Khudobin’s 70.8% point percentage ranked as the third-best among NHL backups. Only Malcolm Subban (73.7 percent with Vegas) and Carter Hutton (71.2 percent with the Blues) had stronger point percentages than Khudobin, and among that same group, Khudobin’s .915 save percentage ranked as the sixth-best. His even-strength save percentage (.918) ranked ninth, while his .894 save percentage with the B’s on the P.K. was fourth-best.
As I said when they first signed Halak over Khudobin for an extra $250,000, those were big shoes to fill.
So, how’s Halak stacked up thus far?
Through 35 team games this season, the 33-year-old Halak has posted an 11-5-2 record (66.6 percent point percentage) and .930 save percentage. His .930 save percentage ranks as the best mark in the entire NHL this season, and his .942 even-strength save percentage is just .001 behind Nashville’s Pekka Rinne for the best mark in the NHL. And through 35 team games last season, Khudobin boasted a 8-2-2 record (75 percent point percentage) and .923 save percentage.
The only even somewhat noticeable dip when comparing 2018-19 Halak and 2017-18 Khudobin comes via the point percentage, but that was almost to be expected given what Halak has played behind compared to Khudobin; Boston’s averaged three goals per night over the course of Halak’s starts, but that number tells a tale of extremes, as the Bruins have had three nights of at least five goals of support and three nights where they’ve provided one goal or fewer of support for No. 41. Khudobin, meanwhile, was gifted at least three goals of support in all but five of his first 12 decisions last season.
But there’s also the fact that Halak has been downright phenomenal when under siege this season.
Among goaltenders with at least 600 even-strength minutes of play this season, Jaroslav Halak ranks sixth among all NHL netminders with an .847 high-danger save percentage (per Corsica.Hockey). When you consider the defensive depth issues the Bruins have played through this year thanks to injuries — nobody expected to see Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and/or Urho Vaakanainen in Boston and asked to play actual roles this season — it’s even more impressive.
Halak has also proved to be an upgrade over Khudobin in the sense that Halak is a legitimately believable starter in the event of a Rask injury or slump, especially come the stretch run and/or postseason. There was always that possibility with Khudobin, sure, but it felt like a desperation call more than anything else. Halak, on the other hand, has legitimate experience as a postseason starter (his 30 playoff games are the 20th-most among active goaltenders).
In other words, the Bruins have gotten what they asked for and more. All for an extra $250,000.
Sweeney, you dog, you.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.