A 2.36 goals-against average (GAA), .921 save percentage (SV%), and a 40-17-10 record including 8 shutouts. That’s what Jaroslav Halak has been able to accomplish in his 71 appearances in a black and gold uniform.
Some Boston Bruins fans have wanted to see Halak take over the starting role ever since he was signed to a two-year, $5.5 million deal on July 1st of 2018. These people are usually angrily yapping on Twitter, calling for ‘Tuka Raks’ (or some other incorrect spelling of “Tuukka Rask”) to be traded for a bag of pucks – but I’ll move on before this becomes something of a strongly-worded letter to the Tuuka Rask Hate Club.
While I, and many others, believe Tuukka Rask is rightfully Boston’s No. 1 guy, it is very apparent that Halak could start on at least half the teams in the NHL (how’s it going, Detroit?). With this level of playing coming from Jaro, it’s taken some pressure off Rask and allowed him to stay fresh over the course of the past two seasons.
Hey, remember when Tuukka took that leave of absence in November of 2018? Halak was there to save the day and keep the Bruins afloat without their No. 1 man.
Halak has also made it so there is virtually no penalty for the Bruins going with their “backup”. As stated earlier, No. 41 could be a starter on nearly any team in the league. Especially this season, where Halak has gone 22-11-4 with a .922 SV% and 2.34 GAA, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Cassidy flipped a coin to decide who manned the crease on any given night.
However, Halak’s days as a Bruin are likely numbered. While Halak has proven to be a very valuable player for the B’s, that is exactly why Don Sweeney and Cam Neely will opt to let him slip into free agency.
The NHL salary cap exists – it’s a thing! And for a while now, Boston has felt its pressure. The Bruins are in what many people would deem “Cap Trouble” as they vigorously work to get team-friendly deals to stay competitive and under the cap.
This summer (or whenever the NHL offseason occurs with the global crisis going on – sorry to remind you), Sweeney and Neely need to prioritize holding onto unrestricted free agent (UFA) Torey Krug and restricted free agent (RFA) Jake DeBrusk. While the following numbers are speculation, I think you see Krug coming in at a six-year deal worth roughly $7 million annually. As for DeBrusk, I could see a bridge deal similar to Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.
On top of that duo, the Bruins also have RFAs Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork to deal with, along with some routine Providence Bruins such as Zach Senyshyn and Karson Kuhlman. Also, Kevan Miller is set to become a UFA, and not even the Hockey Gods know what is going on with him. Oh, and I almost forgot: if the B’s want to keep their captain around for another year, they have Zdeno Chara to consider.
To put it into perspective, it is projected that the NHL salary cap will increase to at least $84 million and as much as $88.2 million for the 2020-21 season. That’s a hefty uptick from the current $81.5 ceiling. This season (at that $81.5 million ceiling) the Bruins have under $700,000 in space.
Now, if the cap goes up to that $84-million threshold, the Bruins will have an estimated $22 million to work with this season, according to CapFriendly. I know that sounds like plenty of room, but think about the pending free agents I mentioned earlier. Now, add to that list RFAs such as Peter Cehlárik, Jakub Zboril, and Daniel Vladar.
The Bruins also have to consider free agents in years to come. For example, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, and Brandon Carlo will need to be re-signed in the summer of 2021.
Lastly, consider how much it will take for the Bruins to keep Halak under wraps. The netminder turns 35 in May and could very well be signing the last NHL contract of his career. He is going to be looking for a substantial payday – money worthy of the starter he can truly be.
In short, Sweeney and Neely won’t be able to cough up the cash Halak will be looking for. The pair will more than likely go with either a prospect as the No. 2, or dip into free agency as they routinely do and look for a guy who will hit the cap for under $3 million per year.
Jaroslav Halak has been superb and a huge reason behind Boston’s Stanley Cup pushes over the course of the past two seasons. However, his days in The Hub are numbered, and the Bruins will be looking at other options this offseason.