Countdown to Bruins training camp: Jaroslav Halak


From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Jaroslav Halak.

The 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak is, without argument, the best goalie that the Bruins have employed to back up Tuukka Rask since the Finnish goalie took over No. 1 goalie duties back in the 2013 season. Halak is no longer at the top of his game after years dutifully stopping pucks behind a less-than-stellar New York Islanders defensive corps, but Halak is expected to push Rask in a way that he’s never experienced with his backups during his time in Boston, barring the one season Tim Thomas backed him up way, way back in 2009-10.  


What Happened Last Year: The 33-year-old Halak posted a 20-26-6 record for the Islanders with just a .908 save percentage, but suited up for 54 games for a New York team that had some real issues defensively, particularly on the penalty kill. So there may be a slight red flag based on the numbers that Halak’s performance is beginning to decline, but we’re also talking about an established performer that has a career .916 save percentage with almost 500 games of experience in the league. Certainly Halak wasn’t the goaltending answer for the Islanders like they probably hoped he would be, but he’s more than qualified to be one of the best backups in the league even if his future performance is closer to what he did last season in Brooklyn.

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest issue in most people’s minds is how well Halak is going to take to the backup lifestyle behind Tuukka Rask. For most of his career Halak was a No. 1 goaltender even if he faced plenty of situations where there was a competition for that spot, and this will truly be the first situation that he enters where he’s clearly not in the running for top dog status. So there will be an adjustment in terms of playing time and staying sharp for his appearances with the Black and Gold, and that will be kind of new for Halak. But all that being said, Halak will also be the best caliber goalie that’s ever backed up Rask, and that could mean that the veteran netminder bites into Rask’s playing time a little bit more than others like Anton Khudobin ever could have. It’s conceivable that Halak could get hot and run with the goalie gig for a few weeks at a time in Boston, and it will be really interesting to see how that plays out with Rask over the next couple of seasons. At the bare minimum, Halak is going to push Rask like nobody has before in Boston.

In Their Words: “We looked at that signing from every angle. We obviously had familiarity with [B’s roving goalie instructor] Mike Dunham having come over from the Islanders. Even Jaro’s save percentage taking a drop, most of it can be pinned on a penalty killing situation, where his numbers, as well as the team, dropped. We’re third in the league in penalty killing, and hopefully it doesn’t drop off. Those are certain areas – his action has always been above what’s expected for the most part. He’s had playoff experience. I just don’t think you can win in this league without having a complement each and every night. You can’t get to where you want to get to. We backed off Tuukka [Rask]’s games last year; it worked out very well. Anton [Khudobin] was a great complement, but again, you come out at the start of the season and your number one goaltender is not there, you better be darn sure your backup is. Vegas got through this year using a bunch of guys, and it’s a testament to their team, but I think, where we sit now, with Jaro’s carried the ball with another team – he’s had months where he’s played 10 games. He’s had usually about 26, at least, starts. That fits in to what we’re trying to expect from what the goaltender tandem needs to happen going forward. We’re a group, and maybe it pushes Tuukka even further.” –Bruins GM Don Sweeney, on the signing of Jaroslav Halak to a two-year deal on July 1, and how it will push No. 1 Tuukka Rask.  

Overall Outlook: Halak should be headed into a very good situation in Boston where there isn’t a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and he instead just has to be a high quality backup netminder behind Rask. He’ll play 30-35 games even as a backup, he’ll have a first class defensive group playing in front of him and he’ll have familiar players like Zdeno Chara around him after they’ve played together at the international level. If Halak merely plays like he has for most of his career, the Bruins will have the perfect backup for Rask and they could have the best goaltending situation in the entire NHL. That had better be the case, as almost nobody in in the NHL is paying as much as the nearly $10 million in cap space that the Bruins are shelling out between the pipes.  


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