By: Trent Leith / January 6, 2022
The Canucks look like they’ve gone from playing in a lost season to suddenly being in a playoff race, albeit at a longshot playoff race. The sudden shift in gear can be directly attributed to the hiring of Bruce Boudreau, as he has suddenly changed the direction of this club’s 2021-22 season.
When the season changes on a dime like the Canucks’ have, you often have to reevaluate how you look at the team’s short and long-term future. Is there a greater sense of urgency to move dead weight off the cap? Is there more of a reason to buy at the deadline instead of selling or holding tight? These are all questions that the new President of Hockey Operations and interim GM Jim Rutherford will need to take a close look at.
Is Halak’s Time Already Up?
One of the things Rutherford will have to take a look at, and it’s something that’s been kicking around the back of my mind since October, should the Canucks move on from Jaroslav Halak?
Thomas Drance of the Athletic recently brought up the question on the VanCast. Halak has played fairly well for a backup goaltender, though the wins column may not imply that. Halak hasn’t gotten much goal support and has had to backstop the Vancouver Canucks on some of the worst nights of the season. However, as of late Halak, like many others under Boudreau, is having a return to form.
Halak has a .915 sv% and a 2.59 GAA which is barely below his career averages (.916 sv% and 2.48 GAA). His win record this season is not nearly as nice at 1-4-2 through 8 appearances.
If the Canucks were to decide to try and trade Halak, there would be a market for a steady-ish veteran goaltender who could join a team down a man due to injury or join a team looking for a marginal upgrade to go on a Stanley Cup run.
What is the Incentive?
But why would the Canucks want to trade Halak you ask? Well, it comes down to one thing, cap space.
The future depends on what Rutherford sees in this team. It’s not unreasonable to think that if the Canucks keep the uptick in play going and climb the standings, that they may actually be closer to being a contender, or at the very least a team that appears regularly in the playoffs. When you’re a team that’s making a push to win now, every cent against the cap helps. On the flip side, a steady veteran goaltender is also important to “winning now”.
Halak is only on a $1.5M one-year deal, but that said, the contract doubles if he hits his bonuses, and both are very achievable.
The first is for maintaining a .910 sv%. If he clears that bar, he gets a $250,000 bonus bringing his cap to $1.75M. This first bonus is likely a lock as he’s already up to .915 sv%.
The second bonus is if he reaches 10 games played, he gets an additional $1.25M. Halak is already up to eight games played. This means all in, Juaro’s potential cap hit is $3M. If the Canucks fail to fit the new bonuses under the cap this season, the bonuses are applied to the cap next season. Due to the Canucks currently in LTIR, it is likely in this case, the bonuses will fall into next season, a season where the Canucks could be expected to go on a run.
$1.5M of space doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that could be one or two half-decent depth pieces. Remember, at one point Pettersson and Hughes were making little more than $1.5M combined. Cap Space is key.
What’s the Catch?
There are two hurdles that lay in the path of completing a trade like this. First, is if the Canucks are winning now, how do you trade away a reliable backup goaltender that will help them in the playoffs?
The Canucks prospect pool has three goaltenders in it. Michael DiPietro is considered to be the best goaltending prospect for the team right now. The second prospect is Arturs Silovs. Neither of these goalies is above a .900 sv% for the season. After training camp we expected Mikey to be knocking the door down, year it seems that he has fallen a little flat this season.
The third and most likely option for a call-up is Spencer Martin, a 26-year-old having a good season for the Abbotsford Canucks. He has put up a .930 sv% and a 1.98 GAA. The Canucks acquired Martin in July for future considerations.
The second roadblock to completing this transaction would be that Halak has an NMC making it very difficult to move him. With this clause, he has the right to veto any demotion to the AHL or trade that he is involved in. Well, it certainly isn’t impossible to trade a player with an NMC, it does further complicate the process. Halak would have to give the green light and would have the ability to choose what team he goes to, this leverage that the player has is often used by trade partners to lower the price of acquiring the asset.
Seeing what Rutherford does or doesn’t do with Halak may be a quick insight into if he believes this team is the real deal. Will Jim put this team in the best position to succeed, or will he end deciding that there is still work to be done and that they are ways away from contending?