As I continue my Wish List series, please keep in mind that my purpose is to initiate discussion of which players we all WISH could play for the Sabres. While I try to pick players who COULD come to Buffalo, I understand that these are mostly long-shots, so keep that in mind!
I have not focused a lot of goaltenders so far in my wish list . . . or at all, if I’m being transparent. But with NO ONE in Buffalo expecting Ryan Miller to be wearing the blue and gold next year, it is worth my time to identify some goalies who could realistically begin minding the nets of the Sabres next season, starting with this guy out of St. Louis.
Jaroslav Halak is a medium-sized goalie who displays sound mechanics, is almost always in good position, has great quickness, and who never seems to let those soft, momentum-killing goals get past him. He teamed up with Brian Elliott to win the William M. Jennings trophy in 2012, but has been beset with injuries this season.
Halak is a bit of a forgotten man right about now, what with St. Louis getting outstanding goaltending from Brian Elliott in the NHL playoffs. He is also an EXPENDABLE man, since St. Louis has a rookie netminder by the name of Jake Allen who started 15 games for the Blues this year and went 9-4 with one shutout. Halak did not have an especially impressive season this year, playing only 16 games (due to the afore-mentioned injuries) and going 6-5-1 – but it should be noted that he posted 3 shutouts in those 16 games. His save percentage of .899 was not great, but his GAA of 2.14 was tenth-best in the NHL. . . and let’s not forget that he is just a year removed from a season in which he won 26 games, posted 7 shutouts, had a save percentage of .926 and a GAA of 1.97. (Also worth noting: neither Miller nor Enroth have ever had a GAA even close to Halak’s 2.14, much less his career-best 1.97 from last season, and Miller did not manage to record even one shutout this year.) Halak may be in danger of being the odd-man-out on a St. Louis team that has an abundance of quality goalies, but that doesn’t make him undesirable; on the contrary, it makes him AVAILABLE, which is why you should not poo-poo this post as a total fantasy!
Nothing against Jhonas Enroth, who shook off some shaky play from early in this season to play shut-down hockey when the Sabres needed it most, but I still don’t see him as being Buffalo’s starting netminder next season. His hot streak aside, he’s still the same guy who went from November of 2011 to March of this year without winning a hockey game, and since consistency is what I’m looking for most in a goaltender, I cannot commit myself to hand over the starting job to this kid. Same goes for Matt Hackett; he COULD be a starting goalie, and I some would argue letting him and Enroth fight over the starting job next year, since it would appear the Sabres are in for a rebuild . . . but even in a rebuilding phase, I want the team to try and win. I say give Halak the starting role, and have Enroth and Hackett slug it out for the backup spot.
I would be lying if I said there was not another reason, aside from Halak’s talent, that makes me wish he played for that Sabres . . . that additional reason being it would be loads of fun hearing Rick Jeanneret yell Halak’s name in the heat of the battle. Come on – you’re thinking it, too!
In all seriousness, St. Louis has too many goaltenders. Elliott has taken advantage of Halak’s latest injury and has played phenomenally in these playoffs, and Allen is an up-and-coming sensation that I cannot imagine St. Louis would be willing to lose. That makes Jaroslav Halak a potential number one goaltender without a job . . . oh, dare to dream, Buffalo!