Hello there, I hope all is well with you. Welcome to a brand new series that I’m debuting called Re- Caps. The name is kind of like a little play on words so to speak. You see, “Re-” is a prefix that means again, or backwards. Caps is the nickname of a hockey team that plays in our nation’s Capital, which may or may not have anything to do with why their name is the Washington Capitals. Anyways like I was saying, it’s kind of like a play on words because the word “recap” exists and the definition of that word is “to state again” and that’s the primary focus of this series. Maybe none of what I’ve said so far has made any sense to you, and that’s okay.
This series is going to take a look at a lot of different aspects of Capitals history. Whether it’s a moment in time or a player or even a coach. Not every installment of this series is going to be about a moment as big as The Save or Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Those moments have been covered a million times before and while we may revisit them from time to time I want to focus on some other points in team history that deserve a little more spotlight.
This is personally one of my favorite stories in franchise history. Yes, it’s about Jaroslav Halak but there’s a piece to this story that often goes overlooked. Let’s recap.
The date is March 2nd, 2014. The Capitals (29-23-9) are hosting the Philadelphia Flyers (31-24-6) for a routine matchup of two teams that do not enjoy each other’s company. Martin Erat tallies an assist in what would be his final game in a Capitals uniform. Mike Green has himself a 3 point night but the Capitals blow a 4-2 lead in the third period and lose in overtime thanks to noted Caps Killer, Vincent Lecavalier.
March 3rd, 2014 rolls around. Nothing happened today. Read ahead.
The date is now March 4th, 2014, a day before the NHL Trade Deadline and the Washington Capitals have made a move. Martin Erat and John Mitchell have been shipped out of town to the Arizona Coyotes for Chris Brown, Rostislav Klesla, and a fourth round draft pick. The initial reaction to this trade was relief. Erat was gone and the Capitals could move on from one of the most questionable trades in the history of the league. Caps fans went to bed that night without any idea of what would await them the following day.
It is now March 5th, 2014 and we have a trade to announce. The Capitals have acquired goaltender Jaroslav Halak and a third round draft pick from the Buffalo Sabres’ in exchange for goaltender Michal Neuvirth and the newly acquired Klesla. I couldn’t find the timestamps for both trades but I am fairly certain that Klesla was a Capital for less than 24 hours. Now I know what you’re thinking. You think that I’m going to go into detail about how the Capitals new goaltender is the same one that tragically brought an end to perhaps the greatest Caps team of all time back in the 2009-2010 season. We’re not going to talk about that this time.
We’re going to talk a little bit about Halak’s tenure with the Caps but before that I want to bring up an important part of this story. Rostislav Klesla made the decision to not report to the Buffalo Sabres’. Instead, he opted for retirement. After a year of battling through injuries, an AHL stint, and a being traded twice, Rusty decided to bid farewell to the NHL in order to recover and prepare to play next season in Europe. The reason that I think this is important is because it’s a simple reminder that there is a human side to sports. That side of the game often goes overlooked or pushed aside by fans. Injuries, trades, and stints in the minors can take a toll on players and their families. Some players play until they can’t anymore and retire with an organization they spent their whole career with. Others sort of fade away over time and become one of those players that gets mentioned on a broadcast a few years later and you think to yourself “I remember them” and then proceed to never think about them ever again. At 31 years old and after 14 years in the NHL, Klesla realized it was his time to move on and retired on his own terms, and I respect the hell out of that.
Wherever he happens to be, I hope all is well.
Would you like to talk about Jaroslav Halak now? Halak started 12 games for the Capitals and went 5-4-3 in those games. Halak finished his Caps tenure with a save percentage of .930 and a Goals Against Average of 2.31. These two stats are fine but they aren’t the best for actually determining how good a goaltender is/was. Instead we’ll look at GSAA which stands for Goals Saved Above Average. GSAA shows the number of goals this goalie prevented given their save percentage and number of shots faced compared to the league average on the same number of shots. The higher the number, the more goals prevented. Halak lead the Capitals with a GSAA of 6.00. For reference, Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby had a GSAA of 5.41 and 1.10 respectively.
At first it was weird but everything about Halak on the Capitals was fine. He quickly became their No.1 goalie for a late playoff push. However, he would leave the Capitals organization with yet another wound, albeit this one was much smaller.
On April 8th, 2014 the Capitals found themselves 4 points out of the playoffs with 4 games remaining. A important date with the St. Louis Blues awaited them. A few hours before the game, Halak tells Head Coach Adam Oates that he isn’t 100% comfortable going against his former team, stating that the trade was still too fresh. It’s important to note that Halak had spent 4 years in St. Louis before he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres’.
Oates was not happy with this decision.
This really soured the relationship between Capitals fans and Halak, but for what it’s worth I understand both sides here. I respect Halak for telling Oates that he wasn’t comfortable with playing because it put the Capitals in position to start someone who was comfortable with playing and therefore gave them a better chance to win, which they did thanks to a great performance by Braden Holtby. On the other hand the Capitals are fighting for their lives and their starting goalie announces just hours before the game that he doesn’t want to play, which isn’t a good look. It’s impossible to say for sure whether or not Halak would have re-signed with the Capitals if this incident had never occurred, but I’m sure that it made the decision easier for both parties.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, they would miss the playoffs by 3 points. Halak would go on to give the Capitals a shutout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and then left the team for free agency leaving the Capitals net in the hands of Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer. Head Coach Adam Oates was fired and replaced with Barry Trotz.
I wonder how that turned out for them.