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What Did the New York Islanders Get in Jaroslav Halak? Part 2

A look back at Halak's odd and brief tenure in D.C., and the moment he established himself as an NHL goalie to be sought.

He dealt with some nonsense last year.
He dealt with some nonsense last year.
Bruce Bennett

Previously we shared thoughts on incoming New York Islanders starting goalie Jaroslav Halak, as told by the manager of SB Nation's Blues site St. Louis Game Time, where Halak was the number one goalie the last few seasons.

Today we'll follow up with a few more from Rob Parker from Capitals site Japers' Rink, where they watched their team briefly, and quite oddly, dabble with the pending free agent near last season's trade deadline before deciding to stick with the younger Braden Holtby after all.

As a refresher, Halak first rose to prominence not through ordination, but by can't-be-denied performance: He was never to be "the future" in Montreal -- that was Carey Price's ordination. But Halak performed so well -- 101 games, nine shutouts, .916 save percentage from his age 21 to 24 seasons -- that Habs fans were actually split on who should be retained when Halak came up for restricted free agency after a masterful, Capitals-destroying 2010 playoffs.

Halak posted a .924 save percentage over that regular season, compared to .912 by Price, who is two years younger. Familiarity with small samples and goalie voodoo would tell you that the difference was not at all clear. Wrote Gabe Desjardens, presciently, at the time:

The difference between Halak and Price's performance has been tiny so far.  But, given how inefficient the NHL market for goaltenders is, that's probably not how people will see things:

1. They'll look at overall save percentage

2. They'll weight recent performance disproportionately (Halak's .924 SV% in 2009-10 vs Price's .912 SV%)

3. They'll weight playoff performance disproportionately (Halak's .910 vs Price's .895)

In other words, Halak is much more likely to be overvalued by someone than Price is.  Even though Halak is probably a slightly better goaltender than Price, the Canadiens should deal Halak in the off-season.  Price's value is reduced by poor recent performance, which should (hopefully) allow the Canadiens to sign him to a cheaper contract, and Halak's trade value is higher relative to his abilities.

I suppose this is a situation that paralyzes general managers with fear.

And not just the team's own general manager. Halak's outstanding 2010 playoffs upset a D.C. team with high expectations, accelerating a sequence of self-doubting events the Capitals are still dealing with to this day. You could argue Halak was one of the precipitating factors in Bruce Boudreau's firing.

So before he helps the Islanders on the ice, we already have that to thank him for.

Anyway, last season the Capitals acquired Halak in an odd move that put him in a temporary competition with Holtby -- who had an off year (more on that below) -- that was reminiscent of the Halak/Price era. As discussed with St. Louis Game Time, Halak has seemed to thrive off having a strong goalie partner. But then we haven't really seen him in an NHL situation where his backup was clearly weak.

Here are the questions we asked of Japers' Rink, with answers from Parker.

Halak in D.C.: 12 GP, 701 minutes, 1 shutout, .930 save%

LHH: So...why do you suppose the Capitals took their strange Halak journey anyway?

JR: The Caps, as bad as the season was, were just outside playoff contention until essentially the bitter end. Goaltending had been an ongoing concern since about December, when Adam Oates decided he had better ideas for how Holtby should play. They started tinkering with his positioning and approach and, predictably, he struggled to change his game mid-season.

Then-GM George McPhee famously said that the goaltending had cost the Caps ~10 standings points and implied that goaltending was an issue for the team. Faced with a relatively cheap opportunity to improve the team's weakness, the Caps traded for Halak and hoped he would catch lightning in a bottle again. It was a last ditch effort by management to try to close the narrow gap between the Caps and the playoffs.

LHH: Did the Oates he said/he said incident spell the end of Halak's brief time in D.C.? Or regime change and renewed faith in Holtby?

JR: I think Halak's time in DC was never likely to be long term. Holtby is younger, and if you believe in ESSV%, better than Halak. I suppose that conceivably Halak could have accepted another platoon role for less money (the Caps were never going to offer him the contract the Islanders offered him), but realistically you had to know Halak was going to look for a starting job and the Caps weren't suddenly going to give up on Holtby.

LHH: In retrospect, what do you make of the Halak/Oates thing, anyway?

The he said/he said incident, if it spelled the end of anyone's time in DC, spelled the end of Adam Oates' time. That was the moment when it was undeniably clear that Oates had his own agenda (which should have been obvious, maybe even before he became the Caps' coach) and was willing to light the players up publicly to achieve it. Oates was never known to be the most humble guy as a player, and there was no reason to think he'd change as a coach.

Regardless of how you feel about Halak asking to not play against his former team (let's just assume that part is true), the notion of the coach releasing that information to the media to make the player look bad is a pretty terrible one. The Caps players haven't called out Oates, even after his firing, but it's impossible not to think that Oates rubbed a few guys the wrong way with that move.

LHH: Beyond putting a human face on the Evil Demon from the 2010 playoffs, did you form any deeper impressions of Halak from his time there? Anything we should be on the look out for, other than tweets from Agent Walsh?

JR: No, not really. He is a good goalie that handled a tough situation with grace, but that's par for the course for most NHL players. He'd been platooning for a long time so there was no reason to think he'd become disgruntled once he came to DC. And, in any event, he got a lot of starts and a clear chance to take over the net while he was in DC so what would he have to be disgruntled about?

He's not the first former-enemy to play in DC and he won't be the last. At least his tenure was short and the team didn't build the entire organization around him only to watch it blow up in their face...Years from now Halak's tenure here will be but a footnote on the ugly year that was the 2013-14 Capitals season.

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As always, thanks to Rob and the Japers' Rink gang for sharing insight on our once-and-present Patrick Division mates.