Halak meets puck. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
This is the next in a series of stories ranking the 24 most important players on the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues.
No. 1 Jaroslav Halak
It's all about the goaltending.
When the Blues were at the top of the heap in the NHL after the first three weeks of October last season, it looked like Halak would stop 28 of 29 shots in his sleep. And then as injuries affected the forwards and defensemen, suddenly the opposition was getting shots closer to the goal more frequently. When the traffic cleared around Halak and shots were kept from point-blank range, he was money. That's not usually life in the NHL.
Before the Blues traded for Halak last summer, he had only played parts of four season in the league. In his last four seasons his minutes played in the NHL look like this:
That's a pretty hefty jump. It should have been expected that Halak might have some growing pains clearly being the man for a team. One playoff run is a couple months. Tops. An NHL season is a six month marathon. It's a grind. Now that he's been through it, Halak knows what it takes mentally to make it through the season. He's still just 26, a youngster by goaltending standards.
With many of the rankings in this series, we determined where to put these players based on either past performance, potential career growth or a combination of both. This one is based almost solely on team need. If Halak falters, there is no reliable Plan B. Brian Elliott and Ben Bishop are not starting-caliber goaltenders. Bishop may be in the future. But if they have a change at goaltender because of injury or poor play, the Blues will not be in contention for a playoff spot. They'd be closer to draft lottery status.
That's it. You don't need to know Halak's save percentage or what he did on Monday night games after giving up more than three goals on the full moon or some shit. Halak plays well, this team has a legit shot to post 100 points. He falters, the whole setup is a question mark.
Last year the Blues' chances were ended by problems with depth. They didn't have any. While they brought in veterans and more scoring and situational players, goaltending was left as a one and done proposition. That's why Jaroslav Halak is the most important player on the St. Louis Blues this season.
Thanks for reading. Hope we helped pass some time before the season starts tonight. Check out our game day thread. It will be rocking.