Thursday, June 3, 2010

Halak or Price - Not so fast

A number of media pundits believe Habs GM Pierre Gauthier has a decision to make this summer on who will be the No. 1 Goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens for the foreseeable future. If only it were that simple. Problem is, the choice he makes will most likely be in reaction to what moves his two goalies make via their agents this summer. By June 26th we should know who the Habs next No. 1 Goaltender will be and it won’t necessarily be the obvious candidate.

Jaroslav Halak

Allan Walsh has made it clear that Halak wants out of Montreal if he isn’t declared the No. 1 Goaltender and the only way that happens is if Carey Price is gone. There’s also talk that Halak might only want a two year deal that would take him to full UFA status when he’s 27 years old but there’s no way the Habs can move Price only to lose Halak in 2 years. Not when Cedrick Desjardins, who’s just 6 months younger than Halak is the only quality Goalie prospect in the entire organization.

So, what’s Jaroslav Halak worth on a 3+ year contract extension? Is the number in Gauthier’s mind anywhere near what Allan Walsh wants for his client? A realistic number would be a Cap hit in the range of $5 Million +/- 500k, a significant step up over what Jonas Hiller got in Anaheim but not Ryan Miller territory either. If they went to Arbitration there’s little doubt that Halak would win his case for that amount.

The Offer Sheet. If a rival GM firmly believes that Jaroslav Halak is a legit money goaltender going forward, what amount would he offer Halak that Gauthier wouldn’t or couldn’t match? I suspect that number would have to be very close to a $6 Million Cap hit which is a dramatic shift over the “He’s not worth a top 6 forward” chatter Habs fans heard going into the trade deadline.

The Compensation. The picks the Montreal Canadiens would get in return, should they not match an Offer Sheet given to Halak is based off the percent change in average player salary each year, not the Cap limit as some might believe. The number has yet to be set for 2010 but I’m hearing that the average player salary increased about 2.5% over last year so for the sake of discussion I’ll use that percentage increase to give readers an idea what a $6+ Million offer would bring.

It's important to note that the amount is determined by taking the total compensation due in the Offer Sheet, and dividing by the number of years specified in the Offer Sheet, or five - whichever is less:

$4,633,154 - $6,177,539 = 1st, 2nd and 3rd Round pick
$6,177,540 - $7,721,924 = 2 x 1st, 2nd and 3rd Round pick

Looking at the numbers, I highly doubt a GM will offer up 2 First round picks, a Second and a Third by offering Halak anything over a $6.18 Million Cap hit so I feel an Offer Sheet of $6 Million is the likely maximum Allan Walsh could realistically hope to get for his client.

Will Halak actually get an Offer Sheet? If negotiations on a contract extension drag on and no deal is in place as June 26th approaches I expect Habs GM Pierre Gauthier will trade Halak at the Draft or just prior if he gets wind that an Offer Sheet is being prepared by a top tier team that would likely result in late round compensation picks. The recent trend is for GMs is to use the threat of an Offer Sheet to force a trade so Gauthier should have ample warning that an offer is coming, by who and for how much. Of course, some GMs are known for their ambush tactics so the closer we get to June 26th without resolution, the more likely it is that Halak will be traded.

The variable in all this is how Jaroslav Halak feels about the Montreal Canadiens. His agent confirmed that they had requested a trade during prior to February and that GM Bob Gainey had promised them he’d “try” to fulfill his trade request. When Gainey stepped down and Pierre Gauthier took over that promise was rescinded and the trade deadline came and went with only a 2nd round pick being shipped out of Montreal for Dominic Moore. Does Halak hold any bitterness over the perceived broken promise and still want out or did the Habs unlikely Playoff run and profound love of the fans smooth things over and change his mind?

Needless to say, Halak has proven he’s a No. 1 Goaltender but he’ll only remain a Montreal Canadien if he wants to and Gauthier has very little say in the matter other than offer $5 Million +/- 500k and set his watch on how long that offer will stand before he pulls the trigger on a trade before June 26th which will be Day 2 of the Draft. I just don’t believe Pierre Gauthier will let things go to a point where he'd risk Jaroslav Halak signing an Offer Sheet.

Carey Price

The Habs are in a tough spot as well with Price. Coming off his Entry Level contract his bonus of $1.35 Million comes off the books, leaving him with a base salary of $850k. Pierre Gauthier could qualify him at 105% or 110% of his salary and while Price just misses out on being Arbitration eligible there's the risk of an Offer Sheet as well. A rival GM could threaten the Habs limited Cap space with an offer of between $1,544,383 and $3,088,770 with the compensation being just a 2nd Round pick. Ouch.

Because of this, I believe the next No. 1 Goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens will be the first one who’s willing to sign a long term extension rather than run the risk of waiting until after the Draft and potentially losing both for picks.

No matter how this plays out, there no way Halak and Price share the Goaltending duties for the Habs next season.