MONTREAL – As if jaw-dropping stats, legions of adoring fans and comparisons to Jesus Christ weren’t enough to help Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak negotiate a hefty pay raise, he now has an additional bargaining chip.
He received a boost Friday from the White House.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy to Canada paid a compliment that, while light-hearted, will no doubt leave Halak’s agent rubbing his hands.
“I don’t know a lot of French,” David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, quipped during a luncheon speech.
“But from what I can gather the word Halak means, ‘gigantic contract.'”
Halak made $800,000 last year which, in the rarified world of professional sports salaries, is a paltry sum for someone who finished the regular season with a .924 save percentage, fourth-best in the NHL.
He then played a key role in helping the unheralded Montreal Canadiens knock off the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, two of the league’s best teams.
Before the team was eliminated this week by the Philadelphia Flyers, Halak had been caricatured by a local tabloid as Jesus; a 53-save performance against Washington inspired people to buy T-shirts stamped with Stop signs carrying his name; fans bowed in praise at his many spectacular stops.
Halak is now a restricted free agent and is also eligible for salary arbitration, a combination that has some people predicting his paycheque will quadruple.
Before launching into a speech about the U.S. economic recovery, Jacobson acknowledged Montreal’s dour mood following the loss to the Flyers.
“I understand that many of you are still a little bit disappointed in how the hockey season turned out, ” he said. Then, without missing a beat, he added: “You’re disappointed that the Maple Leafs only finished second-from-last instead of dead last.”
Jacobson then took upon himself to offer Montrealers some consolation.
“You knocked out two of the best teams in the league. You beat Ovechkin, you beat Crosby—that’s something my whole country couldn’t do last February,” he said, referring to the U.S. men’s hockey performance at the Winter Olympics.
He also encouraged Montreal fans to put the loss in perspective. He pointed out that his hometown, Chicago, hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961.
“When my team last won the Stanley Cup, players didn’t wear helmets, goalies didn’t wear masks,” Jacobson said.
“I think the puck was still made out of wood.”
But with the Blackhawks in the finals this year, Jacobson added he was sure that was about to change.
Jacobson, 57, was a leading fundraisers for Obama’s presidential campaign. He reportedly lobbied hard for the Canadian ambassador’s job.