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Why the Canucks letting Jaroslav Halak hit his 10 game bonus isn’t as bad as you think

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Photo credit:© Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
9 months ago
When the puck dropped in last night’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders, a clause was triggered in Jaroslav Halak’s contract that earned him a $1.5 million bonus. While for many teams across the league a player earning a $1.5 million bonus may not be a newsworthy event, for the cap-strapped Canucks, every dollar matters.
Barring the Canucks managing to pull some salary cap gymnastics and clearing just over $6 million from their long-term injured reserve, that $1.5 million bonus is going to count towards the team’s salary cap next season. Considering that Halak isn’t signed through next season and is unlikely to be made a priority, it seems likely that the Canucks will be paying him to play somewhere else, similarly, but not quite in the same way they’re doing right now with Braden Holtby.
The Halak bonus didn’t sneak up on anyone. It’s been a constant topic of discussion as we’ve inched closer to his 10th game and the strong play of goaltender Spencer Martin — who posted a 1.59 GAA and .958% SV% across three starts — only intensified the debate. With every strong start from Martin, the questions only multiplied around if and how the Canucks could trade Halak before his bonus kicked in.
The Jim Benning regime was characterized by its inability to craftily maneuver the cap, something Canucks fans were treated to in the Laurence Gilman days, and the hope was that Jim Rutherford and Patrik Alvin could make some creative moves to create some breathing room.
However, Halak has now hit the 10 game mark and his bonus has been triggered. While it’s still possible for the Canucks to get out of it (more on that later), it doesn’t seem to be a priority for the organization. Even before he hit the 10 game mark, Jim Rutherford emphasized the fact that the bonus wouldn’t factor into the team’s decision-making.
“His contract will not affect the coach’s decision as to if he plays, how much he plays, and when he plays,” said Rutherford to the press.
And that was the right way to approach the problem. Keeping Halak around gives the Canucks a veteran backup goalie while also keeping their options open. Let’s get into the details.

How could the Canucks have avoided this situation?

Jaroslav Halak is still a serviceable NHL backup that has years of experience in the league. Despite getting the yank in the first period of the game last night, head coach Bruce Boudreau stressed that maybe only one of the five goals Halak allowed were ones that he expects his netminder to stop.
While it’s unlikely that the Canucks could get anything of significant value for him in a trade, it’s not hard to imagine a contender offering a late-round pick for the veteran. Even the Edmonton Oilers might’ve been willing to offer a late-round pick considering their disaster in net, and while teams usually don’t trade players to division rivals, Halak isn’t the type of player that is going to haunt you for years to come.
If they had traded Halak for a late-round pick, Spencer Martin would have been next in line to inherit the backup role. While Martin has had three great starts this season, it would be a premature conclusion to think that he would keep that same pace. He played three games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2016-17 and posted a 0-2-1 record with a 4.35 GAA and a .865% SV%.
While Martin is likely not as good as his play this year suggests, it’s also unfair to judge him by his numbers from a few years ago. His true skill is somewhere in between those two stretches but it’s unlikely Martin could match Halak’s production over the remainder of the season. Halak is currently matching Demko’s goals-saved-above-average per sixty minutes, which counts for something, though anyone watching the games can see that Demko is underrated by most advanced analytics.
To summarize, if the Canucks had managed to find a trade partner for Halak before he played in his 10th game, they likely would have an extra draft pick in between rounds 5-7. They would also be forced to start Martin for the rest of the year in the backup role, who most likely would be a downgrade on Halak, but also would avoid the $1.5 million on next year’s books.

Could the Canucks still trade Halak this season?

The reason why the Canucks didn’t need to rush a Halak trade is that his extra cap hit can be traded. If the Canucks can find a team willing to take on the bonus, it can be dealt alongside Halak in a deal, possibly at the deadline. While this will definitely affect the return, the difference between a 5th and 7th round pick is very little.
The Canucks have been playing good hockey since Bruce Boudreau arrived and have brought themselves from the basement to a step above, sniffing the playoff race but not quite a full participant. There’s still lots of time before the trade deadline and if the Canucks continue to win, especially if they can beat some of the top contenders, then it might be incredibly useful to have Halak around with Martin as an emergency option.
Halak does have a full no-trade clause in his contract which is a large impediment to any deal being made. He would have to be moving to a team that had an opportunity he couldn’t pass up for him to want to uproot and move cities, only to become a free agent once again in a couple of months.
At the end of the day, other decisions such as what to do with Jason Dickinson, Tanner Pearson, and J.T. Miller are going to have a lot more impact on the direction of this club than Halak’s bonus. The $1.5 million wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the Canucks weren’t in such a tough situation with the cap, and finding ways to move mid-sized contracts like Pearson would alleviate the pressure caused by the bonus.
What are your thoughts on the Canucks letting Halak hit the bonus? Do you think he should have been traded earlier? Leave your comments below.

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