Tormented by the Devils, Halak concedes 6 goals on 14 shots

Thatcher Demko was forced into the game on his night off.

There has been some confusion over Jaroslav Halak and the details of his performance bonuses.

Earlier this month, Halak played his 10th game of the season. He lasted just over 16 minutes, allowing five goals against on 12 shots for the New York Islanders.

Halak has a performance bonus in his contract with the Vancouver Canucks that earns him $1.25 million after 10 games. It was widely understood that this meant 10 games played, but it turns out that it actually meant 10 starts. Halak’s game against the Islanders was only his 9th start of the season – one of his previous games was on relief.

This is a moot point. Halak got his 10th start of the season on Monday against the New Jersey Devils, activating his performance bonus. He lasted longer than against the Islanders, but had about the same performance, allowing six goals on 14 shots.

Combined with a relief appearance by Thatcher Demko between those two starts, Halak has allowed 13 goals on 37 shots in his last three games for a .649 save percentage.

You could say he hit the 0.649 jackpot of $1.25 million.

The Canucks are already up against the cap and in their LTIR cap raise, but that cap raise cannot be used on performance bonuses. However, these bonuses can be postponed to the following year. That would be $1.25 million dead money on the books.

It is a difficult situation everywhere. The Canucks need a reliable backup for Demko because they can’t run their number one goaltender to shreds and they can’t afford to give up points when Demko isn’t playing.

Halak might perform better if he had more starts, like he did earlier in the season. Two starts in a month isn’t much, but it’s a catch-22. Halak needs to start more games to play better, but he needs to play better to justify throwing him in more games.

The Canucks might want to trade Halak, but there are two significant hurdles. The first is that Halak hasn’t performed well enough for another team to want to acquire him, especially with the poison pill of $1.25 million in dead money attached. The other is that Halak has a no-move clause, so he can veto any potential trade.

That no-move clause also means the Canucks can’t put Halak on waivers for assignment to the AHL, either. The Canucks are stuck.

It’s amazing that Halak even has a no-move clause. There are only seven other goaltenders in the NHL with a no-move clause and they’re all marquee starters, plus Linus Ullmark, who was supposed to be a marquee starter.

Guys like Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jacob Markstrom get no-move clauses, not 36-year-old backup goaltenders on a one-year contract.

There’s no point complaining about it now, of course. The Canucks have a backup goalie they can’t trust, can’t trade or waive, and who will cost them at least $1.25 million over the cap next season. Worse, he’s not the only goaltender the Canucks will pay not to play for them, as Braden Holtby will hit a cap of $1.9 million next season on his buyout.

That’s $3.15 million in dead money next season. Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin have their work cut out for them.

I watched this game.

  • Perhaps Halak was shaken up early when Nico Hischier swept his crease and launched his skate, knocking him onto his keister. Halak recovered to stop Hischier a moment later and told the referee he missed the obvious goalkeeper interference. Maybe he never got that part of his mind back from the referee.
  • It didn’t help that the Canucks gave away the puck like it was a car and they were YouTubers with too much money. It started with a blind backhand pass from Oliver Ekman-Larsson that went straight to Jack Hughes, who broke 2-1 against Tyler Myers and whipped a hard shot just under Halak’s glove to make it 1 -0.
  • Later it was Myers with the gift, blindly throwing a puck onto the boards where it was picked up by Dawson Mercer. In the ensuing chaos, JT Miller lost track of Mercer, creating a 2-on-1 against Ekman-Larsson. Mercer fed Yegor Sharangovich and he fired a quick shot to the side of the glove to make it 2-0.
  • “We weren’t ready to leave. We’ve talked about what they’re going to bring, how fast they’re playing, and we haven’t matched at all,” Conor Garland said. “It’s just unacceptable in a game like this, in a situation like this.”
  • Two minutes later, it was 3-0 thanks to a power play goal. Quinn Hughes was caught out of position and couldn’t come back to check on Mercer at the backdoor, but Halak played him terribly too, dragging wildly on his knees and allowing Jesper Bratt’s cross pass.
  • Halak was far from good, but the Canucks also passed up a lot of chances. The Devils even hit three posts in the first period. The whole team was not up to par.
  • “Nothing is on our goalkeepers. I mean, we have to play better in front of them,” Garland said. “Jaro is a great goalkeeper, a great teammate, a great guy and for us to play like that in front of them is — I used the word unacceptable, but it’s hard to do that to him. He works so hard in training and doesn’t come in as much, then come in and not play well in front of him, that’s a bad look.
  • Really, the start of this game wasn’t too different from the Canucks’ start against the New York Rangers the night before, as they gave up plenty of Grade A opportunities in this game as well. The difference is that Demko made some stunning saves, giving the Canucks a chance to get their legs back. They certainly had more jumps against Rangers, but they needed that elite keeper to avoid going down early.
  • “Some games we can play so well in the first half and then other games – like most of the year – if there’s something bad going to happen, it’s going to happen in the first half,” he said. said Boudreau. “I’ve read all the important notices to these guys about what this game is about and not coming out as well as we were supposed to come out is shocking to me.”
  • The Canucks came out in the second period intent on turning things around and started off on the right foot with a goal from Vasily Podkolzin. Pressure on the forecheck forced a turnover on Travis Hamonic at the point and he sent a slapped pass in front that tipped first onto Bo Horvat’s stick, then Podkolzin’s stick and past goaltender Nico Daws. The old double deflection catches them every time.
  • The good vibes were short-lived. Speedy Jesper Boqvist took a step over Hughes and drove to the net, where Halak was so deep he literally ended up inside the net. Halak put his pad on the puck, but the puck still went over the goal line for the 4-1 goal.
  • “We really believed in it — because we’ve done it a few times now, when we’ve been missing a few goals that we can come back and score,” Boudreau said. “The idea was just to win the second period and then you might be able to take them in the third…but when they got the fourth after we got the third, it was pretty deflating.”
  • Boudreau was reluctant to pull off Halak, as it was supposed to be a night off for Demko. Even after a lucky shot landed on Luke Schenn’s knee to make it 5-1, Halak stayed. It wasn’t until Bratt sent a wrist shot sailing inside the far post when Halak clearly had no idea where Boudreau ultimately sent Demko into play.
  • “At that time, it was done because it was just a simple shot that he missed,” Boudreau said. “When the sixth came in, it looked like he was a beaten man and so you do it for him.”
  • The Canucks recovered one in the second period. Brad Hunt activated the point and drew a defender towards him on the boards, which opened up space for Tanner Pearson in the middle. Hunt slid the puck inside to Pearson and Pearson shot the puck inside the net.
  • There is not much to say about the game. The Canucks, playing in the second half in a row, could not have been expected to come back in the third period and the Devils added a seventh goal on the stick of Dougie Hamilton as he leapt up in a rush.
  • Elias Pettersson’s five-game point streak has come to an end, although it’s hard to blame him when you see his two linemates for most of the game were Alex Chiasson and Tyler Motte. It seems pretty counterproductive to have a guy with 14 points in his last 8 games struggling with two fourth lines, but again, I’m not an NHL coach.
  • Nils Höglander started the game with Pettersson but was ejected off his line in exchange for Motte after the first period, likely because Höglander was on the ice for two of the Devils’ three goals up to that point. It was hard to blame Höglander on the first goal, but on the second he blew the area early and probably should have been where Myers put the puck. It still would have been a turnover, as Myers didn’t even look where he was passing, but at least Höglander could have been there to defend after the turnover.
  • “I don’t know why it’s so hard for him to make an impact,” Boudreau said. “I moved the guys because it wasn’t working. When you train and things don’t work out you have to find combinations hopefully… I was just thinking maybe he’d do a line with some hard working guys but obviously it didn’t much to add to the game.”
  • So now Quinn Hughes owes Jack Hughes a painting for their house. Jack has now won all four matches against Quinn, which, as much as Quinn can play it down, has to eat it a bit. Maybe once Luke Hughes joins the Devils, Quinn can start picking up some wins, and since there will be two younger brothers, it will be twice as good.

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