Habs made their choice

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:37 PM ET

Like Homer Simpson with Carmen Electra, Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier made his choice.

Gauthier picked goaltender Carey Price and there are outraged Canadiens fans unhappy with the trading of playoff saviour Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for a couple of prospects.

No Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers.

No Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St-Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Two kids - Lars Eller (a bonafide prospect, projected to be a second-line centre) and Ian Schultz (more of a project) - who probably don’t seem like much return to fans still brandishing their HALAK stop signs.

The fact is it is a buyers’ market right now when it comes to goaltending in the NHL. You can get one cheap and there are going to be some veteran guys with no chairs when the music stops come sometime in July (there are about 20 UFA goalies potentially going to market).

Like most deals in the NHL now, this was less about the players than it was the payroll.

The Canadiens could only afford to keep one of Halak and Price, the former heir apparent, both of whom needed new contracts this summer and both were due raises.

Gauthier made his choice the way general managers should make it, projecting forward, not looking at the past. There is outrage on the part of more than a few Canadiens fans who viewed Halak’s performance in the playoffs as a breakthrough and cemented his place as the Habs’ goaltender of the future.

But talking to people around the Habs during the playoff run and to scouts Thursday, not everybody was sold on Halak over the long term.

One Eastern Conference scout said he wondered about Halak’s ability to be a number one goaltender over the course of an entire season and then still have the ability to bring it in the playoffs. Fair enough. Halak has never - not in any season season since 2003-04 when he was a junior in his native Slovakia - played more than 47 games in a regular season. Certainly if the St. Louis Blues are going to invest in making Halak their number one goaltender - he is due to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights July 1 - they are going to want him to play probably at least 20 regular season games than that.

So that would put him in the position of starting the playoffs next year - if the Blues get that far - where he finished with the Habs this season (he played 45 regular season games and another 18 in the post-season).

Halak’s not that big a guy (5-foot-11, 174 pounds), so could he handle the grind?

It’s a legitimate question.

Gauthier made reference to Price as “a guy who can carry a load. He can play a lot of games. He’s a strong man.”

Both Halak and Price are probably going to get somewhere in the range of $3 million each next year (Halak maybe a little more with his arbitration rights; Price maybe a little less given a slipback this season). The idea of spending $6 million on your goaltending isn’t that outrageous if keeping both goaltenders was an option, but in this salary cap era, spending less than $4 million is a lot more attractive (about $2.5 million for Price, say, and $1 million for a veteran backup) since it frees up some money to spend elsewhere (potential UFA C Tomas Plekanec).

In the meantime, the Habs get a couple of kids who could play cheap over the next few years.

Eller, the 13th pick in the 2007 draft, was sought after by other clubs and reluctantly surrendered by the Blues.

Canadiens fans should not be shocked it was Halak who was sent packing or at what they got in return.

As was pointed out in this space May 25, this was always going to be Price’s team.


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