With a team in as much flux as the Vancouver Canucks, just about any player has the potential to be traded for the right price. But for one name that’s been brought up over the last couple days, there’s a real chance of seeing a deal come together sooner than later; goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Halak’s short Canucks tenure has been far from perfect. It took the 36-year-old Slovakian six starts to earn his first (and so far only) win of the season, thanks to a 4-3 come from behind victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and while his stats have vastly improved over the course of the season a major milestone is looming when it comes to Halak’s contract.
The one-year deal Halak signed with Jim Benning during free agency included both a full no-move clause and a potential performance bonus; if Halak plays in at least 10 regular season games, the Canucks will have to pay out an additional $1.25 million to their backup goaltender. So far Halak has played in eight games, putting him on pace to hit his bonus before the end of the month.
Thanks to Vancouver’s precarious salary cap structure, the team won’t be able to fit Halak’s performance bonus in without going over the cap ceiling. And under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement rules any performance bonus overages are rolled over to the next season’s cap, potentially putting the Canucks $1.25 million short in 2022-23.
With such major cap implications, any decision Jim Rutherford and his staff need to make involving Halak will have some urgency attached to it. Even though Thatcher Demko has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season, you can’t play him in 48 straight just to avoid a cap crunch. The Canucks will either have to pay out the bonus at some point, or move Halak elsewhere beforehand.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger after a Wednesday radio hit on Sekeres and Price, that day might be on the horizon if the right offer comes along for Rutherford.
Which begs the question, is it possible to trade Jaroslav Halak, and what kind of market would there be for him?
Let’s get the hard part out of the way. With his full no-move clause, Halak holds the hammer in any trade the Canucks want to make. If the team was still playing at the pace they were before a fateful December 5, it might’ve been easier to sell Halak on a move elsewhere. With the Boudreau Boost operating at maximum power, probably a bit less so.
The trade options at the Canucks’ disposal largely depend on what Halak values most; ice time or playoff potential. If Halak just wants to start more games, the options are pretty wide open. A number of teams are desperate for consistent goaltending to round out their season — the Coyotes, Sabres, and Canadiens come to mind — but the odds of Halak being willing to waive his NMC to play meaningless games on a last-place team seem pretty small.
If Halak is looking to join a contender for one last Cup run, the options are limited thanks to the impending bonus. With the Canucks looking to dump salary, it’s hard to see many cap-strapped playoff teams being willing to take on a $3 million hit without a similar amount going the other way.
That’s not to say there aren’t any potential fits out there. If there’s one team worth keeping an eye on, it might be Vegas.
The Golden Knights have had a hard time getting strong performances out of their goalies this season. Robin Lehner currently has a .905 save percentage after the team chose him over Marc-Andre Fleury, while backup Laurent Brossoit sports a flat .900 in his first season of a two year, $4.65 million deal.
A potential swap of backup goalies makes a lot of sense for both teams here. The Knights would strengthen their depth in net with Halak before another potentially long playoff run, while the Canucks would save a bit of cap space year over year with Brossoit. The only question is how much the Knights are willing to invest in a better #2 goalie.
Even before their blockbuster trade for Jack Eichel, Vegas was slammed right up against the cap and will need to shed a bunch of money before Eichel returns from neck surgery. But with the Knights consistently in “win now” mode year after year, it’s entirely possible that GM Kelly McCrimmon is willing to give up a second team-friendly contract along with Brossoit to fit Halak in under the cap.
Also potentially in the market for an upgrade in goal are the Avalanche. Darcy Kuemper hasn’t been as consistent a starter as Colorado had hoped, and the revolving door of backups behind him have fared much, much worse.
With a small amount of cap space to work with and a number of important pieces heading for UFA status this offseason, Avs GM Joe Sakic might be willing to take on Halak at the cost of 31-year-old Pavel Francouz and a prospect. But like the Knights, it all depends on how strong a contender Sakic feels his team is, and with Colorado currently sitting third in the Central behind Nashville and St. Louis, it might not be enough to make an “all-in” deal for Halak worthwhile.
One dark horse candidate that might be interested is Edmonton. The Oilers’ current tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, and no staff is under more pressure to make the playoffs as GM Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett.
Any deal with Edmonton would probably require taking a goalie back (most likely pending UFA Koskinen), something the Canucks can’t do without the Oilers retaining a hefty amount of salary. While it is possible that Edmonton would take the risk in order to make Halak their starter over their current goalies, with the extra money required to make a deal work, this option is a bit more of a long shot.
But no matter what team might be involved, any potential trade depends on what Jaroslav Halak wants most, and whether Jim Rutherford can sell him on a new opportunity elsewhere. The market might be small for an ageing backup goaltender with a big performance bonus to pay out, but there are certainly a few teams in immediate need of a solidified goaltending front that might be willing to make a deal for Halak happen in the near future.
The clock is ticking.