That the New York Islanders had already engaged in some preliminary contract discussions with Jaroslav Halak’s agent less than an hour after acquiring his rights is a pretty good sign that they’ve found their new goaltender.
Even though a deal still needs to be hammered out with the pending unrestricted free agent, there doesn’t look to be anything standing in the way of getting it done.
“I had a brief conversation with (Islanders GM) Garth Snow after the trade,” Allan Walsh, Halak’s agent, told Sportsnet on Thursday afternoon. “We mutually expressed an interest in exploring an agreement on a new contract. I expect we’ll have discussions soon towards that goal.”
Snow was aggressive in acquiring the rights to Halak from Washington for a fourth-round pick in 2014. The 28-year-old is considered one of the top free-agent goalies available this summer, but it’s hard to imagine the Islanders letting him get to July 1 without a new contract.
Halak recently finished up a $15-million, four-year deal and is coming off a season split between St. Louis, Buffalo and Washington. As trying as it was for him to bounce between teams, he finished the year with an impressive .921 save percentage in 52 appearances.
In fact, among NHL goalies with at least 200 games played dating back to 2009, the Czech sits third with a .919 – trailing only Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas over that period.
Making a pitch for him now seems like a no-brainer for the Islanders. Shaky goaltending was a major reason that they missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years in 2013-14. New York finished with the league’s worst cumulative save percentage (.894) after relying on Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin to carry the load when 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov missed time due to injury.
And while the Islanders franchise has become a punchline for some, it is soon to be seen as a more attractive destination for players because of a move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., that is schedule for 2015-16.
When you couple that with a solid young nucleus that includes John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Travis Hamonic, among others, the Isles appear to have a pretty solid foundation in place. Adding Halak would instantly put them in the conversation to return to the playoffs next season.
There wouldn’t be too many other attractive options if they were unable to sign him. Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller are the other marquee free agents this summer, but there’s no guarantee that either would even seriously consider a move to Long Island.
That Halak doesn’t need to be sold on the merits of joining the organization is one more reason that Thursday’s trade for his rights made a whole lot of sense.