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Should the New York Islanders Trade Jaroslav Halak?

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A look at the rationale, or lack thereof, around one way out of the three-goalie situation

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Every day, NHL general managers have to make choice about how they should best improve their hockey teams. It isn’t a video game, where you can try out lots of different players and see what works and what doesn’t. There is a cost to everything. A smart GM is able to do their best to make sure the potential cost is low and the value the get in return is high (or at least higher than the cost of acquisition).

Claiming a player off of waivers is the perfect example. The only thing it costs you is a roster spot, and you end up getting an asset, either to help your NHL club or to help you acquire an asset that will. That’s low risk, high reward.

Hypothetically trading a high-performing player for a mid- or late-round pick would be a high-risk, low-reward move. It’s possible, but very unlikely, that the player selected with the pick would match or exceed the value of the asset given up.

With the scale established, let’s look at how this applies to a potential trade of Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak in order to clear space and get Jean-Francois Berube — whom the Islanders have apparently liked since acquiring him on waivers when Halak was injured during 2015 training camp — playing time as a backup to Thomas Greiss.

It’s an idea that has percolated since last spring, and hit the front burner last week after Halak and Berube’s shared agent Allan Walsh openly criticized the Islanders’ rare three-goalie setup.

Is There Trade Value Here?

If Halak is dealt, what would the return look like?

Well, the goalie market has been set by deals that were made this offseason. Frederik Andersen returned a low first-round pick (albeit with a caveat, as Jonathan Bernier was later sent to the Ducks to complete bonus-evading “future considerations” on the trade.)

There are significant differences between Andersen and Halak from a trading perspective though. One is age—Andersen is far younger, and thus is not likely to decline the way Halak would due to age.

Some of it is reputation: Halak has been painted as inconsistent. While I think that narrative is false (and narratives should rarely be part of the evaluation process), in the current market, it plays a role.

Furthermore, there is the CBA flexibility. Andersen was an RFA when he was traded, meaning a team could sign him for years (and at a cost they could have at least some control over). Halak is signed for two more years (including the current season) at $4.5 million. A first-rounder is out of the question.

If the Islanders had leverage, perhaps a 2nd rounder could be had, though that is very unlikely. The problem is the Islanders don’t have much leverage. In an era where most teams are cap-strapped, getting a team to take on $4.5 million isn’t easy.

Furthermore, the odds are a team would want to offload a goalie as well, which would put the Isles in the same situation they were in before.

So it doesn’t seem like a trade of Halak would reap major rewards. In that case, the only reason to do it would be if Berube is a stronger goaltender, or an equal one at a significantly lower cap hit under team control.

The issue is that the jury is still out on that. His AHL numbers alternated from mediocre to below average, and while he put up a good save percentage in the NHL, he had a below-average high-danger save percentage, which indicates he may not be as strong as stopping the really difficult shots the way Halak is.

Finally, all Berube’s NHL numbers are an extreme small sample size, which means it really can’t be used to draw anything close to solid conclusions. From a purely objective statistical perspective, it doesn’t seem likely Berube will equal or surpass Halak, and thus there is no reason to prioritize Berube over Jaro.