Even though he turns 35 on May 13, Jaroslav Halak probably could've landed himself a pretty good contract this summer if he chose to test free agency.
He's been one of the most consistent goalies in the NHL over the course of his career, and he's been especially good these last two seasons in Boston serving as the No. 2 goalie -- or probably more accurately, the 1A goalie -- behind Tuukka Rask. His .921 save percentage since joining the Bruins ranks sixth in the NHL among goalies who have made at least 50 starts during that time.
Although there are some other notable goalies set to hit free agency whenever free agency starts this year -- headlined by Jacob Markstrom, Braden Holtby and Robin Lehner -- Halak certainly would've been one of the most attractive options, especially for a team looking more for a short-term option rather than committing to something longer.
There could've been more money, more years, more playing time out there. Instead, Halak chose to sign a one-year, $2.25 million extension with the Bruins.
On a video call with reporters on Saturday, Halak explained why staying in Boston for at least one more year was more important to him than seeking out the biggest contract on the open market.
"You always want to think about the best option possible, not only for yourself," Halak said. "Getting older, having kids, you have to also look at your family as well. Being happy in Boston is one of the biggest reasons we wanted to stay here. Anybody would want to see what kind of options you have on the free market, but I think the decision was made based on having the great team that we have and the teammates that we have. We all get along and it's been a special group since I joined. I couldn't be more happy."
From the Bruins' perspective, there were also some questions from the outside about whether keeping Halak in Boston was in the cards. Prospects Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman are both coming off excellent seasons, as Vladar led the AHL in save percentage for the Providence Bruins (albeit while missing six weeks with an ankle injury earlier in the season) and Swayman was a Hobey Baker finalist for the University of Maine. Kyle Keyser is also a promising prospect, although he missed most of this season due to a concussion and the priority there is just getting him healthy.
There was some thought that the Bruins might let Halak walk, save some money, and have Vladar and Swayman battle it out for an NHL job. But with the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the likelihood of a compressed schedule next season -- especially with all indications being that the plan as of now is to still play a full 82 games -- locking up Halak makes even more sense given that you already know that he can perform at a high enough level to split games with Rask and not have there be any dropoff when he starts.
Speaking to the media on Saturday, general manager Don Sweeney said that bringing back Halak was already in the works even before this break and that it was his Plan A from the start.
"It's potentially a greater variable now, but when we entered into discussions with Jaro, it was all about Jaro and the way he's played," Sweeney said. "So the discussions were reflective of Jaro and the job that he's done. He works very well with our coaching staff. He fits in with our team, the identity of our group. It's a testament to him and the job that he's done first and foremost. But I do believe that if we face compression with next year's schedule -- and I think the intention is to play a full 82-game slate -- I think it will be a nice balance with the goaltenders. We can go to either one of them at any time and our team doesn't have any question marks."
As far as Vladar, Swayman and Keyser, Sweeney made it clear he still thinks highly of them. With Halak turning 35 soon and Rask just turning 33, there will still be a need for younger blood in net at some point in the not-too-distant future.
"We don't want to box anybody out," Sweeney said. "We've always been pretty consistent that if a younger player's ready to take a spot and the opportunity's there, it's up to him. I think looking at it objectively, Daniel had an injury this year and missed six weeks earlier in the season. And then the tail end of this year, with the AHL and everybody on pause, everything's still up in the air. We felt that this stretch of games and the playoffs, those games are meaningful. Historically they help goaltenders develop. We think very highly of Daniel, and obviously Jeremy had a terrific year. He was a Hobey Baker finalist and really backboned Maine to a very nice season. So we're excited about both those young goaltenders. Kyle is actually healthy and back on the ice now. We feel comfortable there.
"...I think we're well-suited going forward with some internal competition. And then we'll see how the older guys continue to hold up. They're both playing at a high, high level."