Some Monday musings for your dining and dancing pleasure (for the last time in 2009):
• Montreal Canadiens GM Bob Gainey has got to be counting his blessings that he wasn’t able to deal backup goalie Jaroslav Halak to the Philadelphia Flyers a couple of weeks ago.
For those of you keeping score at home, Halak has faced 40, 50, 47 and 49 shots in his past four starts and won them all. He was brilliant Saturday night when the Canadiens stole two points from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 3-2 overtime win and has faced an average of 46.5 shots in his past four games.
This gives Gainey a little bit of time to ponder his goaltending situation. And you know what? If he has any stones at all, he has to be at least considering the possibility of trading Carey Price instead of Halak.
Please hold your expletives and your electronic hate mail for a minute while I try to explain this.
You might recall that back in the summer of 1992, the Chicago Blackhawks faced a similar decision to what Gainey is facing right now. Their starting goaltender was Ed Belfour, who had just come off leading the Blackhawks to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup final in almost 20 years and already had Calder, Vezina and Jennings Trophies to his credit.
The backup goalie was a promising, but relatively untested Dominik Hasek – Halak even sounds like Hasek – whom the Blackhawks dealt to the Buffalo Sabres that summer for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round draft choice.
Belfour was very good, but Hasek was otherworldly. Six Vezinas and two Hart Trophies later, Hasek forged a career as one of the best goaltenders in the history of the game.
(As a side note, the Canadiens also left Tomas Vokoun unprotected in the 1998 expansion draft because they had Jose Theodore. Discuss amongst yourselves whether or not that was the right move.)
Not that Halak will do the same thing if he’s dealt instead of Price, but Gainey has got to be thinking it’s possible Halak could go on to be a star goaltender in this league. So could Carey Price, which makes Gainey’s dilemma all the more vexing, given the fact both will be restricted free agents after this season.
There probably isn’t room for both of them in the Canadiens nets, particularly given the fact Halak wants to be a No. 1 goalie. But as long as the Canadiens are giving up 40 shots a game under the tutelage of supposed defensive guru Jacques Martin, they’ll probably need both of them.
If Gainey does decide to make a trade, though, he’ll have to swallow hard and make a difficult decision. Halak has played far less than Price, but is Price’s statistical equal and the Canadiens have a .603 winning percentage in games Halak has played, compared to .566 in games Price has played.
It simply shouldn’t be a slam-dunk that Price stays and Halak goes. So if Gainey does decide to trade Halak before the end of the season, he’d better get a significant return in the form of either players or prospects or both.
Because by trading Halak, he might be trading one of the league’s future star goaltenders.
• Has anyone noticed that Joe Thornton is leading the NHL in points, but is on pace to score just 22 goals this season?
That total would be by far the lowest number of goals scored by the scoring champion during the modern era. In fact, only twice has the league’s top scorer potted fewer goals. Bill Cowley had 17 goals in 1940-41 and Sweeney Schriner had 19 in 1935-36, but the NHL schedule was only 48 games.
To put Thornton’s total into a more modern perspective, consider that Jaromir Jagr won the Art Ross on the strength of 32 goals and each of the top three scorers had more than 22 goals in 1994-95 when the league schedule was condensed to 48 games because of the lockout.
The low-water mark for goals in an 80-plus game schedule by an Art Ross Trophy winner is shared by Thornton (29 in 2005-06) and Peter Forsberg (2002-03).
This, of course, wouldn’t happen if the NHL simply made goals worth more than assists, which they are. The fact it’s possible that two points are split between players who didn’t even score, while the scorer gets one is almost as dumb as awarding three total points for games that go into overtime or a shootout and two for games that don’t.
• If this keeps up, the world won’t have Latvia to kick around at the World Junior Championship next year. Latvia will almost certainly be relegated for 2011 in Buffalo and replaced by the likes of Chad or Papua New Guinea.
Having 10 teams in this tournament is about four too many, but don’t dare tell that to the International Ice Hockey Federation, who knows a cash cow when it sees one. By holding the tournament in Canada or a Canadian border city just about every other year and fabricating a bunch of meaningless games to sell ticket packages is what this is all about.
That’s how you get outrageous scores such as the 16-0 pasting Canada put on Latvia in the first game Saturday afternoon. How proud Gabriel Bourque must be knowing that he tied the Canadian record of seven points in a game playing against Jr. B competition.
You’re going to have lopsided scores and ridiculous scoring records as long as there are at least eight teams in this tournament. But for my money, the WJC was much more compelling when it was strictly a round-robin format with the team that finished first in the standings winning the gold medal.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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