Canadiens trade Halak to Blues
Gauthier acquires young forwards Eller, Schultz in return for post-season star
Pierre Gauthier didn't wait until the upcoming NHL entry draft to address the Montreal Canadiens' goaltending situation, dealing playoff standout Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis Thursday.
Gauthier, who just finished his first season as general manager of the club, received centre Lars Eller and Canadian junior right-winger Ian Schultz in return.
Gauthier called it "big picture decision," in which the team's scouts and managers opted for the long-term potential of the 22-year-old Price, the fifth overall draft pick of 2005, over the more immediate success from Halak, 25.
He could have kept both, but Halak indicated in a conference call such a move would have left both unhappy.
"I think they did the best thing they could do — keep one goalie and give the other one a chance to play most of the season," Halak said from Slovakia. "It's best for everyone that I was dealt and can start on a new beginning."
Halak was a big reason the NHL team advanced to the Eastern Conference final against Philadelphia, posting a 9-9 record, 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 18 playoff games.
He set a team record with 53 regulation-time stops in a 4-1 victory over Washington as the Canadiens came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the first-place Capitals in the opening round. In a three-game stretch, Halak turned aside 131 of 134 shots.
In 45 regular-season appearances, the Slovakian goalie went 26-13-5 and was ninth in the NHL with a 2.40 GAA and fourth with a .924 save percentage.
Blues make 2nd trade
St. Louis announced another, less splashy deal on Thursday. Forward T. J. Hensick was acquired from Colorado in exchange for forward Julian Talbot.
Hensick, a Hobey Baker finalist as top U.S. college player in 2007, has 11 goals and 24 assists in 99 career NHL games.
Talbot, also 25, played junior hockey with the Ottawa 67's and has spent the past three seasons with Peoria in the American Hockey League.
"Jaroslav's play in this year's regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs was remarkable," said Blues president John Davidson in a statement. "He has had very impressive numbers in the NHL and we are thrilled that he will be wearing the Bluenote for us."
St. Louis made the trade after informing veteran goalie Chris Mason they would not attempt to sign him to a new contract.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong was delighted to get a proven young goaltender in Halak without giving up any of the young talent on his current roster, but he disputed the notion that the Canadiens didn't get fair value.
"When you look at the young defencemen and forwards we have, we feel we dealt for a young goalie who can fit in and grow with this team," he said. "I think he's excited to go to a team that will use him as a clear-cut No. 1.
"I think we gave up great value to get Jaro. It's difficult for fans in Montreal because they haven't seen Lars, but I think they'll like him."
Halak is eligible for restricted free agency July 1 with the right to go to salary arbitration if he and the Blues can't come to a contract agreement. Halak earned $800,000 in 2009-10.
He also could be available to any team that wanted to sign him to an offer sheet, a move that would force St. Louis to either match the offer or accept draft picks as compensation.
Halak, the 271st overall pick of 2003, has been strong since his first call-up from American League Hamilton in 2007, when he took over from the injured Cristobal Huet for Montreal's final push for a playoff spot.
In 101 career NHL games, all with Montreal, he is 56-34-7 with a 2.62 goals-against average.
Price a restricted free agent
Price also is a restricted free agent this summer but cannot go to salary arbitration.
The inconsistent Price never could wrest away the No. 1 job during the regular season and finished with a 13-20-5 mark with a 2.77 GAA and .912 save percentage. He made four playoff appearances and recorded a 3.56 GAA and .890 save percentage.
Gauthier said the team would look to a free agent market that will be rich in veteran goalies this summer for a back-up for Price.
"You need two good goalies and we'll make sure we have two good goalies," Gauthier said. "We're very comfortable with Carey Price.
"He has about 150 games even though he's only 22. He has a few rounds of playoffs. He has a Calder Cup. He brings a lot to the table and we think he will be a very good goalie in the NHL."
Eller, 21, is the key player in the deal for Montreal. The native of Herlev, Denmark, scored two goals and had a plus-2 rating in seven games with the Blues, who drafted Eller 13th overall in 2007.
The six-foot-one, 198-pounder also finished second in team scoring with the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League, notching 57 points on 18 goals and 39 assists in 70 contests.
Eller skated in the AHL all-star game this past season and finished ninth in the league in power-play assists with 22.
Schultz, 20, recently completed his third full season in the Western Hockey League for the Calgary Hitmen. The Calgary native was sixth in team scoring with 55 points (24-31) in 70 games.
The younger brother of Washington Capitals defenceman Jeff Schultz, he added 15 points in the playoffs to help the Hitmen capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Gauthier said managing the salary cap had much to do with why he wanted prospects instead of established players. He said having relatively lower-paid young players such as Eller who can play regularly helps to keep veterans. Eller's salary for next season is $875,000.
The Canadiens are in negotiations to keep centre Tomas Plakanec, their scoring leader, who can become an unrestricted free agent, and a handful of other potential free agents.
With files from The Canadian Press