If you've watched one second of the 2010 NHL playoffs, you've undoubtedly heard the name of Jaroslav Halak.
Halak has been a god among men so far in the postseason. After the Montreal Canadiens went down 3-1 to the top offensive team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, Halak turned in three performances that were each worthy of legend as the Habs upset the top regular season team in the league in seven games. Now, against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Halak continues to shine as the Habs have pushed Sidney Crosby and company to a seventh game in the second round as well.
Overall in the playoffs, Halak has an incredible .932 save percentage while facing an average of 34 shots per game; he kept more than 50 shots out of the net in one game against Washington!
It's easy to fall in love with a player that gets hot for a couple weeks in the postseason that might not merit as much fantasy love over an 82-game schedule. For example, Danny Brier had 53 points in 75 regular season games for the Philadelphia Flyers this year, but has 12 points in just 10 playoffs games this spring. Nobody would consider Brier, though a good player, to be worthy of a keeper spot in any fantasy league.
Is Halak worthy of being labeled a "keeper" between this season and the next?
Look back at the 2009-10 regular season. There were whispers early in the year that Halak might not make it the entire campaign in Montreal because management was tied too tightly to the other netminder on the Habs roster, Carey Price. The other reason Montreal was linked to a lot of trade rumors is because both Halak and Price are restricted free agents this coming summer, and both could ask for a raise too big for the Habs payroll to handle; Montreal couldn't keep both after this season, so the two young goalies had an 82-game tryout for the 2010-11 starting gig.
In the 45 games he played, Halak clearly took the starting job away from Price and ran away with it. He ended the season ranking in the top ten in the NHL with a 2.40 goals against average and an outstanding top-five .924 save percentage. Halak also had five shutouts.
Let's step away from Halak for a moment and consider the value of keeper candidates in fantasy hockey. There are so many variables on an annual basis between NHL pipes, it's hard to say many goalies are worthy of a keeper spot. Consider that players like Halak, Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard were relative unknowns outside of their teams' local markets before the season, and now all three are at the forefront of the position in the playoffs.
If your league has two or three keeper slots allowed, usually those spots will be used on top-tier forwards or occasionally on an elite fantasy defenseman like Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, Drew Doughty or Mike Green. When you add to that reality the fact that another relative no-name, Tuukka Rask, is now the primary goaltender in Boston in front of last year's Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas, determining which netminders will be elite from one year to the next has historically been too much of a crapshoot to make many keeper-worthy.
Basically, most owners wouldn't consider keeping a goalie unless his name is Ryan Miller.
However, Halak is someone that should be considered a keeper heading into next year. After his run this spring for Montreal, he has won the hearts of Habs fans and should have won enough of the respect in Montreal's front office to get the king's ransom he deserves this summer. Price will likely be the odd man out in Montreal this summer, and Halak will get the starting job all to himself next year on a good, young team.
If you have Halak on your roster and have the option to keep him, he's a top-20 player in the NHL right now and should absolutely be considered someone to hang on to over the summer.