With the Montreal Canadiens playing in St. Louis tonight, an obvious match-up comes to mind: Carey Price versus Jaroslav Halak.  Halak was famously traded from Montreal during the summer after backstopping the team’s remarkable playoff run.  At the time, Montreal fans were shocked at the trade and the weight of the world was placed upon Carey Price’s shoulders.

Of course, that weight remains with Price, but he seems to have learned how to carry it a bit better.  Price is currently tied for the most wins among NHL goaltenders with 32.  He has a 2.31 goals against average and a .924 save percentage.  His seven shutouts put him second in the league.  Price has played 59 games for Montreal, which makes him the second-busiest goaltender in the NHL behind Miikka Kiprusoff who’s played 60.

Halak has struggled with injuries this season, but he’s still managed to play 44 games.  In those games he has recorded 20 wins and he has a 2.64 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.  Halak has four shutouts this season.

So were the Habs right to trade him when they did?

It’s always tough to compare goaltenders on different teams and this is especially true when the teams play in different conferences.  The Montreal Canadiens are currently sixth in the Eastern Conference while St. Louis sits 13th in the West.  Of course, the two teams are very different, so these positions cannot be placed entirely on the respective goaltenders.

Montreal went to the Eastern Conference Final last year, while St. Louis missed the playoffs.  It’s not really fair to compare the talent and experience on both teams with one another.  However, Halak was brought into St. Louis to give the Blues just that: talent and playoff experience.

While some may be down on him, Halak has been far from a bust in St. Louis and he still has another three seasons on his current contract.  The injuries he suffered this season likely made him less of a force in net this year, but they shouldn’t hurt his play in the future.  Halak is doing just fine in St. Louis and he will continue to do well.  The playoff experience and talent he brings to the team are still very valuable to the Blues and Halak is in no danger of losing his job there.

Perhaps the bigger story is the play of Carey Price this year.  He has frequently been criticized for his lack of mental toughness and ability to handle pressure.  However with more pressure than ever on Price this season, he’s been very successful.

Had Price stumbled in the absence of Halak, Montreal fans and media would have been calling for his head with more ferocity than ever.  Carey Price is proving his many critics wrong this season and the angry chants and message board chatter have seemingly disappeared for now.  Price finally has the spotlight all to himself in Montreal and he is excelling.

Jonathan Willis wrote about this issue on Hockey Prospectus last month and he points out that both teams are getting about what they should have expected from this trade:

We know what’s happened to Halak since: he was brilliant last season, and okay this season. His track record at every level reveals him to be not only competent, but likely an above-average NHL starter over the long haul. It is likely that his disappointing run so far this season is an aberration, and that we will see him rebound moving forward.

Carey Price has not just superior draft pedigree, but when compared to Halak’s impressive record at the same age, somehow managed to consistently put up better numbers. Based on that, it seems likely that when all is said and done, Price will have the better career.

Halak is a very talented goaltender who has the ability to rise to the occasion when needed.  That’s what the Blues wanted from him.  Price is more of a natural at his position and will perform quite consistently for years to come.  That’s what Montreal wanted.

In a perfect world, both Price and Halak would have successful careers with their respective teams for years to come.  It actually looks like that’s what’s happening, which is always nice to see.  It turns out this deal worked out well for both players at this point.  Maybe what happens in years to come will finally settle this debate for good.