Cristobal Trade Rumor Update: Jeremy Roenick Comments, Stirs Debate

JR wants Halak, but would it work?

Over the weekend, current NBC talking head and former Blackhawks All Star Jeremy Roenick decided it was his turn to spice up the trade rumors swirling around his former employer.

Before the Olympics, Roenick told the media that he didn’t think the current Blackhawks’ goalie duo of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi was good enough to win the Stanley Cup. Hopefully NBC wrote “the obvious” on the memo line of his next paycheck, because not many fans, observers, analysts or even management with the Hawks have been overwhelmingly confident in Huet this season.

The issue most people have with Niemi is his lack of experience; of course, Roenick should know better than to question a goaltender’s experience as a factor in the playoffs. After all, Roenick was a member of a Blackhawks team that put a kid in net six times in the playoffs that hadn’t stepped on the ice during the regular season. Ed Belfour went 4-2 in the 1990 playoffs before eventually winning the Calder Trophy the following season.

But Roenick decided to add his opinion to the trade rumors, and said Montreal’s Jaroslav Halák, currently playing for Slovakia in Vancouver, would be a better fit for the Hawks than Florida’s Tomas Vokoun. There are a lot of holes in Roenick’s trade proposal, many of which are simply a matter of being current.

The central issue in Montreal, and the reason they are involved in as many rumors as they are, is that both Halák and Carey Price are free agents after this season. Because both are considered above-average goalies, the assumption is that they will choose one to sign to a new deal and the other will be traded before the March 3 deadline to add on-ice quality and depth.

Roenick claimed that Halák “wants out” of Montreal because of the “Price situation.” If Roenick had done his homework, he would have realized that when Halák would have wanted out of Montreal was closer to Thanksgiving than today. Halák did reportedly tell Montreal brass that he wanted to be dealt if his long-term future was not with the Habs, but has since won the starting job from Price. Given the recent change of General Managers in Montreal, the organization is no longer as tied to Price as they once were, meaning either netminder could be dealt.

Price, in my opinion, is no better than Huet. He also would not add the desired “better” experience to the Blackhawks’ roster that would, in theory, be one of the central keys to making a deal. Yes, the Blackhawks need to save money against next year’s cap. But Stan Bowman isn’t going to sacrifice this year’s chances for a Stanley Cup just to save money next year. Moving Huet for Price would not improve the situation in net for the Hawks, and his career playoff numbers (5-10, 3.11 GAA, .896 save pct) wouldn’t make anyone sleep easier at night.

Halák, who will be 25 in mid-May, would also not bring much playoff experience to the table. He has only seen action in three playoff games in his career, but has performed well (0-1, 1.86 GAA) in those opportunities. Ironically, it was the development of Price that forced Huet out of Montreal in February of 2008. Once Huet was dealt to Washington, Halák was promoted to the NHL roster.

Another issue that Roenick fails to deal with is the payroll situation in Montreal. Currently, there are 14 players under contract for 2010-11 in Montreal with a cap number of $45.732 million. Because both Halák and Price are restricted free agents, adding Huet’s $5.625 million cap number would be a complete net addition to their bottom line; if the Hawks are in a tough financial situation right now, trading Halak for Huet would put the Habs in an equally bad situation. In Roenick’s proposed world, either the Hawks would be forced to take salary back, or Montreal would have $51.357 million committed to only 15 players. This would give them only between $4-5 million to fill their roster, meaning they wouldn’t quite be able to average $1 million per player to complete their roster.

The math doesn’t add up for the Hawks to make a deal for Halák.

There has not been a package linked to anything between the Hawks and Montreal anywhere, just speculation that the Hawks would have interest in a young goalie that might be available at the right price. Clearly, adding a contract like those of Kris Versteeg or Patrick Sharp is completely out of the question given Montreal’s cap situation, so the Hawks wouldn’t even be able to accomplish their desired salary dump in a deal with Montreal either.

For the Blackhawks, adding Halák would be an improvement on the ice over Huet but would present other issues this summer for Chicago as well as Montreal. The Blackhawks would then have to deal with both Niemi and Halák being restricted free agents. Being forced to re-sign both goalies could be an expensive proposition for the Hawks to deal with in a summer in which they still need to cut money to be under next year’s cap.

The flip side of the deal is the proposal for Vokoun. In that deal, as we discussed over the weekend, the Blackhawks would send Huet, Versteeg and Corey Crawford to Florida for Vokoun and either Denis Seidenberg or Jordan Leopold. Both Seidenberg and Leopold are free agents after this season, meaning the Hawks would be eliminating Versteeg’s $3.083 million cap number. Adding that to what the Hawks already cut in the Barker-Johnsson trade, the Hawks would be closer to their goal of cutting roughly $10 million off nexy year’s payroll (Barker also had a $3.083 cap number, and Johnsson is a free agent this summer).

Vokoun would come with a slightly higher cap number than Huet ($5.700 million), but in this case it’s the length that matters. Vokoun has only one year left on his contract after this season, while Huet has two. The significance of shedding $5.7 million off the books in the summer of 2011 is that Brent Seabrook, Dustin Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer are all scheduled to need new contracts at that time. Therefore, the immediate cap savings might not happen, but the Hawks would feel cap relief when they need it in 15 months.

So while our old buddy JR might think Halák is the right/better guy for the Hawks, the number don’t add up.

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