What are the Bruins getting in new backup goalie Jaroslav Halak?

Sara Civian
July 03, 2018 - 10:43 am

Dennis Schneidler/USA Today Sports

Anton Khudobin had about as quality a season as $1.2 million dollars could get the Bruins in 2017-18. Tuukka Rask’s 32-year-old backup went 16-6-7 with a 2.56 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

More than that, he pushed Rask to perform better through particular stretches at the beginning of the season. If Rask was underperforming, he knew a competent back up was right behind him. Other times, Khudobin’s convincing performances in net reminded Rask that although he’s the starter, he needed to watch his back.

He was what he needed to be that season, but the Bruins know how unpredictable backup netminding is. They hadn’t forgotten his previous subpar season. They weren’t going to risk overpaying him.

When Khudobin lamented on how much he loves Boston and how sick he is of the free agency market at the end of the season, it seemed his re-signing would be among the no brainers on general manager Don Sweeney’s free agency checklist.

“I want to be here. I like it here,” he said at Bruins breakup day. “...I’ve been in a lot of cities and a lot of states, and Boston is my favorite one. It’s not because I want to give it a shot or try to say I’m so nice, I’m going to just sign here. This is my favorite city. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to sign here, or if I’m going to go away or if I’m going to sign here. Boston is still going to be my favorite city.”

Then the dreaded talking period lasted particularly long. Then you started to feel silly for falling for the “I love Boston” thing again (but come on, that one was convincing).

Then there were rumblings that Khudobin wanted a bigger contract and the Bruins wouldn’t budge -- which, for the record, they never seemed they were going to, and neither side was wrong.

I guess we convinced ourselves Khudobin would just...accept that? After a career year?

He “loves Boston,” right?

Khudobin signed a two-year, $2.5 million AAV contract with the Stars July 1.

He can learn to love Dallas, too.

The initial, visceral reaction was that this wasn’t supposed to happen. Khudobin was supposed to be an “easy” signing (like that exists) so that the Bruins could get to the juicy stuff.

That’s why it automatically seemed like a loss, even if the Bruins signed someone just as competent. If we can look past how this situation strayed from the plan, it seems the Bruins did sign someone just as competent.

33-year-old Jaroslav Halak agreed to a two-year, $2.75 AAV contract.

“Jaro’s carried the ball with another team – he’s had months where he’s played 10 games. He’s had usually about 26, at least, starts,” Sweeney said. “...His action has always been above what’s expected for the most part. He’s had playoff experience...That fits in to what we’re trying to expect from the goaltender tandem, what needs to happen going forward. We’re a group, and maybe it pushes Tuukka even further.”

He’d spent the last four seasons with the Islanders, and started most of the games in 2017-18. He was playing behind the almost indisputably worst defense in the league (especially penalty kill), and his numbers are at least somewhat a reflection of that -- 20-26-6 with a .908 save percentage and a 3.19 GAA through 54 games.

The Islanders gave up 35.6 shots per game for the worst record in the league. Now Halak’s headed to the second best team in the league with only 29.3 shots allowed.                      

“I’ll try to help out any way I can. I’ll try to fit in as soon as possible. We’ll see what happens,” he told a pool reporter. “I’m 33, I know Tuukka [Rask] is a little younger than me. I’m just looking forward to be with him. I know he’s an elite goalie and he proved that every year. Every time I get the chance, I’ll try to help out and we’ll see what happens.”         

The Bruins defense -- including former World Cup teammate Zdeno Chara -- is not going to leave him out to dry as embarrassingly as the Islanders did. Backup goalie is one of the more unpredictable positions, but if history and common sense are any indication, a team that isn’t a trainwreck and no pressure to start will allow Halak to flourish.

His main responsibility is obviously to keep Rask fresh, and he’s had five seasons in a row with at least 26 starts (the ballpark for what he’ll need to do in Boston). Despite being on some dumpsterfire-y teams, he never dipped below .908 in that time. Khudobin posted a .904 in 14 starts in 2016-17, and he had less than 26 starts in two of his last five seasons.

Khudobin’s 2017-18 showing was almost exactly what the Bruins needed at the time, but who’s to say he wouldn’t revert back to his 2016-17 numbers?

Horrendous defenses considered, Halak has proved just as capable of this particular job, with more starting experience -- 434 starts to Khudobin’s 135 -- for sample size.