Monday, July 28, 2014

Jaroslav Halak Swatch Card

By now you've probably guessed that Jaroslav Halak is my favourite NHL goalie, with Corey Crawford right behind as the de facto favourite Canadian goalie. Things haven't exactly always gone smoothly with Halak, but most of the players I admire often face adversity.

There are many who have waxed poetic about the 2009-10 playoffs he had with the Montréal Canadiens, but truth be told, he was the main reason the Habs even made the playoff three separate times; and his detractors like to point out that it was Carey Price who made the All-Star Game that year, but Halak nonetheless finished 10th in Vezina voting, which is voted on by the league's general managers and based solely on the regular season.

Halak also finished 6th in Vezina voting in 2011-12, in his second season with the St. Louis Blues - the year he and Brian Elliott shared the Jennings trophy. And while I openly rooted for Halak, I never became a Blues fan, so when they threw traded him away to acquire Ryan Miller, all I could wish them was a painful elimination. Which they got. And for all the flack that Halak got for having good statistics because he was playing in Ken Hitchcock's defensive system behind a wall of Olympic-caliber defensemen, Miller played behind the same guys on the same team, and the stats speak for themselves:
Halak: 24-9-4 (.686 winning percentage), Miller: 10-8-1 (.556)
Halak: 4 shutouts in 40 games (1 per 10), Miller: 1 shutout in 19 games (1 per 19)
Halak: 2.23 GAA, .917 save percentage, Miller: 2.47 GAA, .903 save percentage
Halak played like a #1 goalie, Miller played like a washed-up career backup. And Miller was even worse in the playoffs, with a 2.70 GAA, a .897 save percentage, and looking so shook up he rattled every single one of his teammates. Granted, injuries have prevented Halak from displaying his poise under pressure in St. Louis, but he still has a 1.73 GAA and .935 save percentage for the Blues in the postseason.

The only thing you can pin on Halak is his small stature (not his fault), that he gives a lot of rebounds (it's his style, he just needs to kick them towards teammates a bit more often), and the fact that while he is virtually unbeatable in pressure situations, he might lose his concentration against lesser teams after having won 3 or 4 unbelievable games.

One thing he has going for him next season (and for the subsequent three if he fulfills his contract with the New York Islanders) is that, more often than not, he will be on the lesser team, and will be facing the better opposition. But with him in nets and John Tavares up front, the Isles just might have the team to cost a few teams a playoff spot, and maybe squeeze into one themselves in a weak Metropolitan Division.

And, as at least one commentator so aptly put it:
(Elliott has appeared solid for the Blues during the regular season, but his playoff record indicates the inability to lead a team to the ultimate goal. Jake Allen may have what it takes, but it isn’t going to come without a learning curve or two.) Fans may soon realize just how good Jaroslav Halak was for the Blues during his time in the gateway city.
I didn't want to overload Halak with too many requests, so my plan was to write to him last year or this year to have him sign cards of himself with the Blues, but with the trade rumours intensifying, I didn't; and now he's on a team that isn't great at getting players their mail. Still, I have this card of him wearing St. Louis' third jersey (their nicest at the moment), from Panini's 2010-11 Dominion collection, #87 in the set (numbered 75/99):
It contains a white swatch that Panini - as is their custom - won't identify as being a jersey, but rather ''game-worn material'', so it could be a sock. (Just kidding, the checklist on their website says it's a jersey.) I'll get to it later, in the coming weeks or months, but I just want to say that Dominion was a much better product in 2010-11 than it was this year. This card looks great, and the back even has a different picture of him, wearing the team's white (away) jersey:

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