The New York Islanders made one of those increasingly common pre-free agency bets in dealing a fourth-round pick to the Washington Capitals for the rights to negotiate with Jaroslav Halak to become their next starting goalie. What kind of contract offer will it take to make the trade for the unrestricted free agent pay off?
Even before the trade was made, two months before free agency, it was clear there was a logical fit: The Islanders were one of the teams that absolutely needed a new number one goalie, while Halak has the credentials but also enough of a checkered recent history to make him seek stability.
In addition to some injuries that have interrupted otherwise promising recent seasons, Halak played for three different teams in 2013-14, a product of both his being an unrestricted free agent as well as a nagging sense by the St. Louis Blues that they could succeed if they found an even "clutchy-er" goalie. (Oops.)
The immediate reports after the trade was announced Thursday were that yes, Halak's side (via agent Allen Walsh) is interested and in fact initial discussions had even begun. That's a good sign for the Isles.
But what will it take?
That's where it's murky. Informed speculation mentions $4 million:
Washington likely wasn’t going to dish out the term or salary (potentially upwards of $4 million annually) that Halak could be seeking as a free agent
believed to be looking in the three-to-five year range at around $4 million per season.
But that would probably a starting point.
True, Halak has the injury history (more on that at the bottom) and is coming off a weird recent season: Not only did the Blues jettison him while sitting in first place, but also his new coach in Washington claimed he "wasn't comfortable" starting against his former team yet.
But his numbers are good, and he's coming off a four-year deal, signed as an RFA when the Blues acquired him after his amazing playoff run with the Canadiens, which paid him an average of $3.75 annually.
Furthermore, the $3.75M cap figure is a little misleading: His current contract escalated to pay him $4.5 million in 2013-14, part of the "buying out free agency years" theory under which he signed that extension.
So even if his stock is lower now, his UFA leverage at least balances that out and $4 million would actually be a paycut.
Among his peers...
- The top salaries are upwards of $7 million, but Halak doesn't have the cache of Jonathan Quick or Pekka Rinne.
- Semyon Varlamov (26) signed an extension that begins paying $5.9 million in 2014-15.
- Carey Price, Tuukka Rask and Marc-Andre Fleury all make $5.75 to $6 million on longer-term deals.
- Mike Smith (32), Cory Schneider (28) and Antti Niemi (28) make $4 million on 3 to 4-year deals.
- Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky pulled $5 million per on a two-year deal as an RFA.
- Halak's former partner in the Blues crease, Brian Elliott (29), commands just $1.9 million.
- And of course the man he'll replace, Evgeni Nabokov (38), made $3.25 million last year.
There are obviously different age, term, and signing circumstances for all of the above, but that should help sketch the landscape, which is always evolving.
If Halak is seeking three to five years, this should be his last big payday. While $4 million annually would feel about right and Islanders-friendly given the market and his position, I would bet on the average annual value and salary being closer to $5 million, particularly by the end of the deal.
There is some risk involved for the Islanders, but making this trade, and doing what is required to lock Halak up, is the surest path to trying to solve a position of absolute need.
Are the Injuries a Concern?
About the injuries: Eastern fans may not know this, but a combo of them helped derail his time in St. Louis. One was a hand injury, but the more alarming one was a couple of groin/abdominal issues that took him out of the playoffs after just two games in one season, and left him recovering too late to take the #1 job back before the 2012-13 playoffs.
However, after focusing on his core last summer, he went through the 2013-14 season without re-aggravating the groin/abdominal problem, so at least to the extent you can forecast health and injuries at all, he's alleviated the concern there.
For the Commentariat
This is a multi-part poll, but how much would you offer to get a deal done before you walked away? And what do you think it will realistically take?