The Washington Capitals waited until the NHL's 3 p.m. trade deadline had come and gone before announcing a certainly intriguing transaction, acquiring goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a 2015 third-round draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla.
"We've been thinking about it this week," general manager George McPhee said of adding Halak. "We looked at all opportunities and where we can upgrade on our team and what's available and what's the price. The more we thought about this, the better it looked. And we were able to accomplish it."
Halak arrives in Washington having just been traded last Friday to the Sabres from the St. Louis Blues as part of a package for goaltender Ryan Miller. In 40 games with the Blues this season, Halak earned a 24-9-4 record with a 2.23 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and carries a $3.75 million salary-cap charge.
The Capitals' crease has been in a state of flux all season, from Braden Holtby initially serving as the clear-cut starter to a three-player logjam created by the emergence of Philipp Grubauer.
Halak will be expected to provide a steady presence in goal while splitting time with Holtby. The two have the makings of a formidable tandem; Holtby and Halak rank 11th and 12th in the NHL in even-strength save percentage at 92.6% and 92.5%, respectively.
"Both guys will start games," McPhee said. "We'll see where it goes."
As for Neuvirth, he had become a victim of circumstance over the past three seasons. After starting 45 games for Washington in 2010-11, he has started only 53 since as untimely injuries or illnesses prevented him from ever wrangling the starting position. Neuvirth's agent requested a trade on his behalf in December, and Neuvirth himself informed McPhee that he was uncomfortable in the backup role.
"[Neuvirth] wasn't happy being a No. 2, and so we tried to accommodate him," McPhee said.. "We brought in an experienced guy. I think it's an upgrade on the tandem, which is what we wanted to accomplish."
It was nearly four years ago when Halak, then 24 years old, backstopped the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens to an unprecedented comeback against the top-seeded and Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, Halak stopped 131 of Washington's 134 shots in the final three games as Montreal rallied, becoming the first-ever No. 8 team to do so from a 3-1 deficit.
Having been felled by Halak's inspired play in the past, the Capitals hope to benefit from it as they attempt to secure their seventh straight playoff berth.
"He’s played well in Montreal, he’s played well in St. Louis and we hope he can come here and play well," McPhee said. "He’s a good goalie and he can get hot. The objective was to try to upgrade the tandem and we did.”
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