ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues introduced their prize acquisition, goaltender Jaroslav Halak, to his new fans Thursday.
And the 25-year-old Slovak said the right things when he called his phenomenal success with Montreal “a real nice memory,” but part of the past. He says he’s looking now to the future.
The Blues acquired Halak in June and signed him to a four-year contract.
Halak was adored by Canadiens fans as he went 26-13-5 last season, ranked fourth in the NHL with a .940 save percentage and ninth in goals-against average at 2.40. He gained wider fame in the first round of the playoffs by winning three straight games over favoured Washington, stopping 131 of 134 shots.
St. Louis fans are hoping for some of that same success. The Blues have made the playoffs just once in the past five seasons.
The summer did not go according to plan for Halak, who became a restricted free agent along with fellow netminder Carey Price.
Somebody had to go and when Blues general manager Doug Armstrong came calling, a trade was worked out. Unrestricted free agent Chris Mason left St. Louis and wound up signing a two-year deal with Atlanta.
“Back in June when our season ended and we were looking how to improve our team, we set out that we were looking for one more piece to our puzzle,” Armstrong said. “Someone that could grow with this team, someone that had the pedigree, not only of the flash in the pan success that we saw him have in the playoffs and the season too. But when you look at his resume, he’s a winner. He knows how to win, he’s played great goal for a number of years.”
Halak, who helped knock Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby out of the same playoff season, has shifted his focus to his new challenge despite the fact he’ll be adored in Montreal now and in the future.
“Do you think about it, yeah. It’s a real nice memory, but that’s in the past,” Halak said. “We’ve got to move forward and try to do something similar in the future. We’ll see what the future brings. Our goal is to make the playoffs and you never know what’s going to happen then. You look at Philadelphia and us (last season), we ended up in the conference finals that no one really expected.
“It was a great run in the playoffs, it was a great experience, but that’s the past. Everybody needs to do something similar like that in the future. You can’t live on what happened in the past.”
Besides the Capitals, Montreal also eliminated the Penguins in a seven-game series before falling to the Flyers in five games.
“This is a 25-year-old that understands when you go on the road trip, you fight and battle to where you want to get to,” Blues president John Davidson said of Halak. “That’s the type of character player that we want in our organization.”
Halak, sporting a No. 41 third jersey, was flanked by Davidson, Armstrong and team owner Dave Checketts, who obviously was pleased with the events that led up to one of the biggest trades in team history.
“John and Doug called me to report that they were working on a blockbuster trade; those are the days I just dream about,” Checketts said. “They don’t come along very often in your life as an owner. When they do come along, you have to appreciate them.”
Halak will bring a 56-34-7 mark in 101 career games to St. Louis. But it will be his first season as a clear-cut No. 1 netminder. Ty Conklin will serve as his backup.
“I’m looking forward to new fans, a new team and a new organization,” Halak said. “It’s going to be different for sure. But the sooner I get used to it, it’s going to be better.”