The Vancouver Canucks created $3.8 million in cap space when they bought out Braden Holtby. The next step was to sign a backup goaltender for less than $3.8 million to make sure that cap space wasn’t created in vain.
That backup goaltender will be Jaroslav Halak, who the Canucks signed to a bonus-laden contract as soon as free agency opened.
The 36-year-old Halak had a .905 save percentage in 19 games for the Boston Bruins last season but a .919 and .922 save percentage in the two prior seasons. The odds are good that he can be at least a decent backup goaltender for the Canucks and there’s a chance he could be a very good one.
The base salary and signing bonus on Halak’s contract is $1.5 million, which will be his base cap hit for the coming season. Because Halak is over 35, the Canucks were able to add performance bonuses to the deal to entice Halak to sign: $1.25 million if he plays at least 10 games and $250,000 if he has a save percentage over .905.
The benefit for the Canucks is that performance bonuses can be deferred to the following season. That gives the Canucks some cost certainty for the salary cap next season — Halak’s cap hit won’t be more than $1.5 million if they need it to be that low.
The risk is that if Halak hits those performance bonuses, the Canucks will then have a $1.5 million cap hit in the 2022-23 season and no player.
The big question for both Halak and the Canucks is how Halak will handle playing in the Canucks’ system. The Canucks have given up a lot of high-danger chances with significant cross-ice puck movement prior to shots. Unless they make significant systematic changes, it’s likely they will again, as their blue line does not look like it has improved.
Halak was solid behind the Bruins’ defence over the past few seasons but the Canucks will present a different challenge.
To his credit, Halak is a mobile goaltender — he needs to be at just 5’10” — but that is also part of the risk. If the Canucks allow too much cross-ice puck movement, Halak will have to make a lot of lateral movement, which can open up holes in a smaller goaltender. Hopefully that won't be an issue for Halak.
Still, on a one-year deal at a reasonable cap hit, this is a solid signing for the Canucks. He will hopefully be able to provide a year of at least average goaltending as Demko’s backup and allow prospect Mikey DiPietro to have a full year of development in the AHL after limited playing time last year.