Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that Jaroslav Halak will start in goal for St. Louis on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks. This is Ken Hitchcock’s first major decision as Blues head coach, an intriguing one to say the least.
Much had been made of Halak’s relationship with the recently-fired Davis Payne, something PHT discussed two weeks ago in the Wednesday Wake-up Call. Despite Halak being paid like a starter (four years, $3.75 million per) and Brian Elliott being paid like a backup (one year, $600k), playing time had been split almost equally between the two.
Did Elliott deserve the minutes given Halak’s struggles? Sure. But sometimes business decisions trump hockey ones.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong swung big to land Halak, trading away prized prospect Lars Eller (“a player we didn’t want to give up,” Armstrong said at the time) — and swung even bigger by giving Halak $15 million before he played a single game for the Blues.
Acquiring Halak was one of Armstrong’s defining moves.
Payne took that defining move and benched it in favor of Brian Elliott.
See the problem?
By hiring Hitchcock, the hope is that this won’t be an issue. Payne used Elliott because Elliott gave him the best chance to win. With Hitch, the system gives him the best chance. His tight-checking defensive approach does wonders for any goalie — literally, any goalie. Steve Mason got nominated for a Vezina while Hitch was in Columbus. Roman Chechmanek and Robert Esche combined to win the Jennings during his stint in Philly. One year his Dallas team finished third in goals allowed with an Andy Moog-Arturs Irbe timeshare.
Now, this isn’t to suggest the Blues could throw a pylon in the net and Hitchcock’s system would do the rest. Far from it. But it is to suggest Armstrong feels Hitchcock’s system gives the Blues (and Halak) a greater chance to succeed, something he didn’t feel about Payne’s.