Thursday, October 14, 2010

Halak, Very Important to Blues

The Blues' big summer splash was the trade that brought Halak to St. Louis. The Slovak goalie was Montreal's playoff hero in the spring, leading the eighth-seeded Habs to improbable series wins over Washington and Pittsburgh. He was deemed expendable, though, because Montreal's management believes Carey Price is that club's goalie of the future.

Halak didn't come without a price. St. Louis had to sacrifice its top forward prospect, Lars Eller, as well as promising right wing Ian Schultz. The Blues also parted ways with Mason as a result of the Halak trade. Mason wound up signing with Atlanta.

Halak, who was a restricted free agent, agreed to a four-year contract extension July 6 that reportedly will pay him $3.75 million annually. He went 26-13-5 last season. His .924 save percentage was fourth in the NHL and his 2.40 goals-against average was ninth. Halak also won a pair of Game 7s on the road, in Washington and Pittsburgh.

Halak is set as the No. 1, but he has a nice warm blanket behind him in Ty Conklin, one of the top backup goalies in the NHL over the last couple seasons. Conklin won 10 games last season and posted a 2.48 GAA and .921 save percentage.

The Blues' brass believes Halak could start between 55 and 60 games this season (he started a career-high 43 last season), with Conklin filling in the rest. That looks to be the perfect amount of work for each goalie as Conklin stayed fresh last season with 21 starts and 26 appearances.

"I think we have one of the best goaltending combinations in the game," Blues GM Doug Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch.

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Jose Theodore With Minnesota Wild

In nine years of existence, the Minnesota Wild has had just 10 goaltenders start a game. That includes four that played a game last year. Goaltending has always been a strength for the young franchise, because it always featured an experienced and talented tandem.

Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson. Fernandez and Niklas Backstrom. Backstrom and Josh Harding.

The Wild's goaltending tandem looks formidable again. The Wild lost Harding to a devastating knee injury early in the preseason, but picked up the owner of a Hart and Vezina trophy, and the winner of 30 games in 47 appearances last year with Washington.

Jose Theodore agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Wild today, and will join the Houston Aeros training camp until the Wild returns from Finland. Anton Khudobin will serve as Nik Backstrom's backup while the team is in Europe.

"Jose's a veteran who's won 245 games in the NHL," said General Manager Chuck Fletcher in a hotel lobby in Helsinki. "We're fortunate he was still available. He makes us a deeper team and we have a terrific one-two punch again."

Theodore ranks sixth among active goalies in games played (518) and wins. His best year came in 2002 as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, when he went 30-24-10 with a .931 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average, earning him the Hart and the Vezina.

Wild fans are no stranger to Theodore, who posted a 2.81 goals against average and a .911 save percentage last year. In 2008, he was brilliant in leading the Colorado Avalanche to a first round upset of Minnesota, which had won its first-ever Northwest Division title.

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