Jaroslav Halak was left unsigned heading into the 2023–24 season and only recently found himself participating with a team as the Carolina Hurricanes brought him in on a PTO. He was released from said PTO on Monday morning, returning him to the free agent pool.
The 38-year-old netminder is a seasoned veteran who has consistently found himself as an important member of his team’s goaltending tandem wherever he has played. Over the years, he has turned into a bit of a journeyman backup as he has now played for seven different teams over his 17 seasons in the NHL.
Is the time right for him to add one more team to that list?
Identifying the need in the Oilers’ lineup
The Edmonton Oilers are in desperate need for a solution in net. Even though the quality of the defensive play in front of Jack Campbell, Stuart Skinner, and now Calvin Pickard has been questionable at times, and the team has gotten horrifically unlucky thus far, the goalies have not performed in a way to let the skaters build any confidence in their games nor have they been able to make the occasional game saving stop.
Now that Campbell has been shipped off to the AHL (where things are not going any better for him) and Skinner has taken over the starter’s role full-time, the goal is to try and settle the crease a bit and fill this need for a goalie that was not solved by the signing of Campbell a couple offseasons ago.
Skinner showed us last season that he is capable of carrying the workload for this team. When he stepped in last winter to take over as Campbell struggled, the team’s performance rebounded and the Oilers dominated the latter half of the schedule with his stellar goaltending. But, he was clearly worn out come playoff time and that was a factor in Edmonton’s second round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Combining this information with the clear fact that the Oilers need help in net and it is time to start exploring options. Which is where Halak comes in.
Would Halak be a good fit for the Oilers?
Throughout his career, Halak has, at times, been relied on as a starter (or at the very least a 1B), and played 40 or more games seven times. He has a career save percentage of .915 and goals against average of 2.5. Additionally, he has been a part of the tandem that won the Jennings Trophy twice in his career. This is a solid track record.
Combining this with his veteran presence and experience within a bunch of different organizations, and Halak looks to be a player who would do good for the Oilers. Edmonton is a team right now struggling with expectations, lacking confidence and swagger, and many players stuck slumping. Skinner and the other goaltenders especially. Halak has certainly been through his fair share of rough patches during his career, so he may be able to come in and help settle things down.
Why signing Halak makes sense
It is no secret that the Oilers are struggling with cap space. They had to start the season short a player and struggle to call anyone up when others are injured. Although they’ve freed up a little bit of space burying Campbell and being able to place Dylan Holloway and Mattias Janmark on LTIR, they still only have $1.15M available according to CapFriendly. And that is with just 21 out of 23 roster spots filled.
The benefit to signing Halak is that he would likely be less than $1M and would fit under the cap without making any other moves besides sending Pickard back to the AHL.
Compared to other options, those acquired via trade, the price to bring them in would be steep. Likely costing multiple first round picks and prospects just for the other team taking on the remainder of Campbell’s contract. Although the team is in win-now mode and giving up futures to make a necessary move in the team’s Stanley Cup window is a sacrifice that is often made, it is still hard to part with.
Additionally, over the course of Halak’s career, he has been a fairly consistent performer. His numbers generally do not fluctuate greatly all that much year over year.
And, as mentioned above, bringing in a veteran goalie who has played in many different organizations and situations could be beneficial for a young goalie like Skinner.
With Halak also being at the tail end of his career, he is probably not looking for a situation where he will need to carry the workload as a starter until he retires within the next season or two. He fits in quite nicely in Edmonton, where the plan does appear to be for Skinner to be a full-time starter (or at least 1A), with the potential for someone like Olivier Rodrigue, who is off to an amazing start this season, to make an impact in the NHL soon.
Why signing Halak may not work
With the way the Oilers are performing so far this season, would Halak be enough to even make a difference? A significant part of the problem is the types of chances the Oilers are giving up. Yes, the goalies are giving up far more of those chances than other team’s goalies are. But the quality of those chances, being off the rush, are going to be difficult for any goalie to save.
Halak had sort of maxed out as a career backup, maybe a 1A in his best years. So will he, at 38 years of age, be a solution to this problem? And, given his age, will he be a long-term enough solution for the team to put off finding or developing an actual starter?
The Oilers might need a more impactful solution than Halak to fill the apparent hole on the roster and help give the skaters some confidence.
With Halak remaining unsigned and being released from a PTO mid-season, is he even going to be willing or able to continue on? With questions and concerns about his abilities popping up, notably his timing in the crease, it does not sound like he would be able to accomplish what the Oilers need out of a goalie.
They’d need Halak to come in and immediately be able to split games with Skinner while putting up numbers matching his career average on a nightly basis. Although he generally is consistent over the course of his career, within seasons he tends to be streaky depending on workload and his numbers have started to fall a bit over the past few seasons.
They need someone to come in with confidence and swagger who can step in ready for action to get the team rolling again. Come to think of it, is Mike Smith ready for a comeback?
With limited options available in the mid-season goalie market, and a cap-strapped Oilers team that is going to struggle to find anyone to bring in, Halak represents a cost-controlled, veteran option that would not require giving up a hefty price of futures to acquire.
But is his game at a point where he would want to first, sign in Edmonton this late in his career, and still have the ability to make a meaningful impact? The Oilers do not have any more room for error on this season and a misguided attempt to patch the hole instead of going bold could spell disaster if it doesn’t work out.