The Jaroslav Halak Rumor Plot Thickens

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It's evident to any Habs fan that the chances of seeing Jaroslav Halak in another jersey this year is fairly high. Consistenly in trade rumors for over a year now, Halak is showing that he wants to play hockey, whether it's here in Montreal or elsewhere.

He performs well when he's on the ice for the Habs, and doesn't complain when Carey Price gets the majority of the starts, but you can tell that he isn't the type of goalie that is content with being the back-up, and it shows in the way he plays. His performance in Ottawa last week, where he made 44 saves and essentially won the game for the Canadiens, started a firestorm of rumors, the most rampant of which was rumors of a deal that would send him to struggling Philadelphia in return for someone along the lines of James Van Riemsdyk or Claude Giroux.

Today, the rumors took an interesting turn of events when locked out Journal de Montréal reporter Bertrand Raymond posted a blog in which he cites a conversation he claims to have had with General Manager Bob Gainey. (English translations of the article at TSN and Habs Inside/Out.)

In the conversation, Raymond asks Gainey about the validity of the rumors, to which Gainey interestingly replies that it was HE who called the Flyers and not the other way around. He also states that he has contacted several other teams about the availability of Jaroslav Halak. If it isn't odd enough that Gainey would make such assertions, he goes on to remind everyone that he only received a second round pick for Cristobal Huet two years ago, and that the Flyers themselves only had to give up a second round pick to acquire Martin Biron.

Bertrand Raymond, while locked out from his normal post as a reporter for the Journal de Montréal and forced to blog on a site that has been set up for the locked out reporters, is considered a veteran and has followed the Canadiens for over 30 years. While it wouldn't be a total surprise that Bob Gainey would choose to talk to him over some other reporter, it is odd that Gainey would talk to anyone at all.

Normally a man who keeps his cards very close to his vest, and one to remain fairly mum about player negotiations and trade discussions, Gainey isn't one to be so forthcoming with the media about what he plans to do with players, so this apparent interview strikes me as somewhat odd.

When the rumors floating around are that the Canadiens could get a top six forward in return for Halak, why come out and only mention goaltenders that have gathered 2nd round picks as a return? Gainey has already put on his Paul Holmgren has this past summer when he decided to fast forward a rebuilding process and condense it into one off-season, could he be trying out his best Brian Burke impression, in an attempt to manipulate both the media and other general managers?

Or is he simply admitting defeat, raising the white flag and telling General Managers around the league that he knows that Halak won't get the top six forward he desires onto the Canadiens line-up? Is he trying to tell us that he'd accept a second round pick for Halak? That he tried to trade him, but failed, so far? Or is he simply playing a game of cat and mouse with infamous player agent Alan Walsh, who represents Jaroslav Halak?

Either way, it just doesn't strike me as the attitude that Gainey is capable of portraying.

Something is fishy here, and there is more to this story that we know thus far.

The funny thing is that Philadelphia just claimed Michael Leighton off re-entry waivers, and rumors are swirling that they may be recruiting John Grahame out of a local rec league. Not exactly quality goaltending there, Homer.

As for Halak, he was confronted about the rumors at today's practice, but was seemingly more prudent than Gainey was in divulging information. Halak said that he neither confirms nor denies whether or not he has asked for a trade, and that he simply wants to play hockey.

Regardless of all of these rumors and complications, I think the Habs should hold on to Halak a little bit longer and only trade him at the deadline. Halak will be in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, and will be the starter for a Slovakian team with has some serious top-end talent in every position. Win or lose, the Olympics will help Halak's value. Clearly, Halak is not only playing to be a starter on an NHL team, but to represent his country at the Olympics. A strong showing in Vancouver might be able to put a deal over the top.

More on this story as it is made available, and I'll also be back tomorrow with the Habs/Devils game preview.

Prax
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