Monday, December 21, 2009

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Imagine you have two really nice new cars. Let's say one's a Cadillac Escalade and the other is a slick little BMW convertible. You want to drive them both, but of course you can only run one at a time. What would you do? If it was me, I'd alternate them. The Caddy in bad weather, the Beamer when it's nice out. Or maybe the convertible during the day and the SUV at night. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be leaving one of them to seize up in the garage.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Carey Price and Jaro Halak are like those new cars. They're both young, talented goalies who want to be in the net every night. The problem is, only one can go at a time and the organization has decided it will treat one of them like a Cadillac and the other like Jughead's jalopy.

When you compare the two, you often hear Price has "more talent" and that he's a "thoroughbred." But when you compare their numbers, there's not a lot of difference between them. Both goalies have posted some very nice, high-save performances this season and both of them have stolen games. Both have also allowed some stinkers. When you look at their history with the team, Price has had some ups and downs in terms of his consistency. Halak has never really had a sustained down period, but he also doesn't get enough starts to have one unless the other goalie is hurt.

I think it all comes down to draft position. The Canadiens invested their best pick in a long, long time in Price and they really need him to be worth it. You can't have a chance to choose a potential franchise player and blow it without setting your team back a decade. That's why Price gets the kid-glove treatment and chance after chance to play while Halak warms the bench. On the other end of the bench, the fact that Halak's played in the NHL at all is a minor miracle, considering his ninth-round draft selection. The fact that he has respectable numbers and finds a way to win games is just a bonus for the Habs. The future and reputation of the franchise doesn't ride on how well a ninth-rounder develops, so Halak isn't as important as Price.

That's such a foolish way to handle the goalie situation in Montreal, though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having two talented goalies, both under 25 and both capable of winning games for the team. In fact, there are several strong arguments to be made for a more balanced tandem in nets. The fatigue factor is one of them. We see goalies like Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur put up great regular seasons playing seventy-plus games, then fade in the playoffs. Risk of injury is another. Butterfly goalies are prone to injuries of the joints, as we saw with Price last season. Less playing time helps keep both goalies healthier. Keeping both keepers sharp with a balanced playing schedule also means they're at the top of their games if the other guy gets hurt or starts really struggling. Consistency isn't the strong suit of most young goalies, so having both ready to go is an advantage for the team.

Halak has told Bob Gainey he wants to play more. I don't blame him. He's proven several times in the last four years that he deserves at least the chance to get more ice. It won't hurt the team to give him a few extra starts. I can understand the temptation to keep Price in net when he's on a hot streak, but Price hasn't been super hot for the last several games, and still Halak sat until Saturday. Trading Halak won't bring the team more than he's worth to it right now, and still leaves the problem of filling the spot behind Price. I'd even argue that the Canadiens need a guy like Halak who's capable of stepping into the starter's role because Price himself isn't established as a number-one goalie yet. It's in the team's best interest to keep Halak happy, and the way to do that is to give him more work.

I'm glad to see Saturday's shutout rewarded with another start for Halak tonight. He's earned it. But what if he plays extremely well again? That's when the problems start. If Price had shut out the Islanders and played well against Atlanta, there'd be no question of continuing with him. If Halak does well, though, we're suddenly looking at a "goalie controversy." This is when Habs fans start dividing into "Price" and "Halak" camps and dumping on the other goalie. Sure, they say, Halak got a shutout, but it was only against the Islanders. Or, Price would have been sure to allow a blooper goal like he does every game. To me, that's akin to saying the beamer corners really well, but it'll never have the power of the caddy.

You can have two cool cars without disliking one for not being the other. You can also have two good young goalies to help each other and push each other to be better. It's not being disloyal to Price if you admit Halak's good too and deserves a few more starts. It's not dumping on Halak to say Price is really talented and can get the job done on any given night. I'm rooting for both of them because the Canadiens need to win games. They need to use every advantage available to them to rack up as many points as possible, and I think having two strong young goalies is an advantage.

Now, if only Gainey and Martin would see it that way before Halak hits the open road out of Montreal and leaves Price alone to drive the team into the future.


DB said...

When comparing players it's funny how some people think being negative about one player makes the other player superior. Maybe it's a byproduct of our political culture where going negative is a standard practice because it works.

Anyway the Habs have two good young goalies and that's a problem. Both want to be number one and both will be in line for big raises this summer. That means one of them has to go so the Habs will have the cap space to resign Pleks and the other RFAs and UFAs.

Habs management clearly believes Price will be the better goalie long term. His MVP performance at the world juniors and Calder Cup playoffs, his younger age, and his stellar play in some games helps support that view. They could be wrong, but who has an accurate crystal ball.

Sadly, that means Halak is the odd man out. Sadly because Halak is a great story and an even better teammate. So goes life in the salary cap era.

Whether he is traded now, at the deadline or in the off-season is up to management and market conditions. I just hope the Habs get a great return and that Halak doesn't come back to haunt them.

Kyle Roussel said...

I agree with you 100%. I wish there was a way to keep both happy with playing time. The problem is that they both want to be bonafide #1 goalies, and their agents want them paid as such.

Sharing duties will prevent them from building the type of cv that they would need to fetch #1 money. And if both are relatively the same age, with the same stats, don't you have to pay both about the same?

Both are RFA at season's end. I think it's safe to say that Price is going to triple or quadruple his current pay. If Halak has similar stats, does that not mean that you have to pay him in the same ballpark? But would it make sense to pay him that way? The Canadiens could not afford to have both goalies at such a price tag, and that being the case, one will have to go, and we know who that will be.

It's not right, it may not be fair, but c'est la vie.

J.T. said...

@DB and Kyle: I agree a team can't afford a pair of goalies with big salaries. But I think neither goalie has proven enough yet to warrant big salaries. Price is already making 2.2 million or so, with bonuses. I don't think he should receive a whole lot more than that in his next deal. Certainly not in the five-million range. Perhaps by the time the next contract rolls around he'll have proven he deserves that, but right now he doesn't. Neither does Halak. But, I'd rather pay a little less for a Gomez or a Laraque and a little more to ensure solid goaltending every night.

Anonymous said...

"We see goalies like Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur put up great regular seasons playing seventy-plus games, then fade in the playoffs."

Seems to me that with 3 Cups and at least one other Stanley Cup final under his belt, Brodeur has not faded much in the playoffs, considering how much of an offensive powerhouse the Devils have not been through the years. As for Luongo, I don't think he's faded much either. He has just happened to play for lousy teams,. The Canucks are probably not lousy but can't be expected to do much more than they have done, even if they had Brodeur and Luongo at the same time in the net.

dusty said...

I really don't care much who's in nets for the Habs at this point. It's the forwards I'm concerned about. The Habs are always the second best team on the ice no matter who they play. Until they get some solid balance up front who stops the puck doesn't interest me in the least.

Andrew Berkshire said...

Sorry JT, but I highly doubt a goalie is going to be getting starts based on draft position and not who the coach thinks has a better chance of winning the game. Before these last two games Halak was being roundly outplayed by Price in every way imaginable. He'd faced weaker teams, and poster far worse numbers. Because he hasn't played in many games these last two vastly changed these numbers. To say "I think this is what's happening, and if it is it's not the right way to do it, therefore shame on Canadiens management for relegating poor Jaro to the bench" (who had a .894 sv% before this week) is just not an honest train of thought. Reminds me a bit of how Jack Todd sets up strawman arguments against Gainey constantly.

J.T. said...

@Berkshire: I'm not talking about this week. I'm talking about how the two goalies have been handled since their debuts with the Canadiens. Do you honestly believe if Halak had been the guy selected fifth overall he'd have been demoted out of camp two years ago? After he'd single-handedly dragged the team back into playoff contention the year before? Or that Price would have been started over and over, after stinking out the joint repeatedly last year after the All-Star break, if *he'd* been the ninth-rounder? After Halak stole those games against the Canucks and Sharks?

There's substantial evidence of the organization's favouritism towards Price. His numbers don't warrant it. They're not noticibly different than Halak's. In searching for another answer for Price's exalted position, I have to believe it's because the organization's investment in him, i.e. using a top-five draft pick on him, is so much greater than its investment in Halak. The team *needs* Price to pan out more than it needs Halak to do so. One could argue Halak has already panned out in terms of his draft position.

To get the focus off this goalie-rivalry obsession, look at it this way: Don't you expect more of Andrei Kostitsyn, a first-round pick, than you do of sixth-rounder Matt D'Agostini? Would you be surprised if the team didn't give Kostitsyn every chance to make it and justify the pick? Of course draft position makes a difference in the way players are treated. It's all about return on investment.

As for Halak being "roundly outplayed," both this season's stats and career stats say otherwise. You point out Halak has played far fewer games. Don't you think that might have something to do with performance? Halak is traditionally a goalie who needs regular work to be sharp, and when he sits for eight or nine games, he's not at the top of his game when he finally gets the call. As for the ridiculous argument about playing "weaker teams," are there many weaker teams than the Candiens are themselves? If you're pointing a team like Atlanta as a "weaker" team, I think anytime you give a team with Ilya Kovalchuk on it fifty shots, your goalie is doing a helluva good job to steal a point, never mind a win.

As I said, I like both goalies, but I'm not blinded by hero worship of either one of them. All I'm saying is the team could benefit quite a bit from having two sharp young goalies who get regular work. Continuing to favour one over the other, when both can play well, doesn't help anything.

Anonymous said...

I am simply amazed at how many people are on one side or the other.

The amount of time spent debating who should be number one must have given some people ulcers by now.

The situation is no more than a passing remark in the pre-game phone call between me and my dad..."who's playing tonight?", "Oh very good then"

The situation will work itself out, and I have no control over it. I'll just keep cheering on which goalie gets the start......hmmm, seems like a novel approach hey?