Trading an established player for prospects is always a gamble that rarely draws anything less than scorn or ridicule from fans and media.
Teams don't do it because they think they can get ahead by doing so, they do it because they're forced to and they're trying to cut their losses.
Such is the case with the Montreal trade of Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. Montreal did not need Halak and Carey Price and had to choose one because both will be RFAs this summer and both have the ability to be starting goalies. I was surprised they traded Halak – because I think he's better now – but I can understand Habs GM Pierre Gauthier's rationale for this trade because he traded the goalie with the most value and kept the one with the unrealized upside.
Halak was a good bet to be the target of an offer sheet, but rather than take picks as compensation, Montreal opted for a player who is ready for the NHL in Lars Eller. As a 20-year-old playing for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL, the Danish forward scored 57 points in 70 games. If the first-rounder from 2007 lines up on the wing, he can make the Habs next season. As a centre, he'll be behind Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez, but also provides insurance in case Montreal can't re-sign Plekanec, who is a UFA this summer.
Considering how saturated the goalie market is, I think the Habs were fortunate to get a player of Eller's caliber. Is it fair value? No, but that's because Eller has only played two NHL games and Schultz has yet to turn pro. Also, you have to wait until Eller and Schultz develop and contribute in the NHL before you make a fair assessment of this trade.
There are many UFA goalies available this summer and there are young prospects such as Cory Schneider, Jacob Markstrom, Jonathan Bernier who are ready to seize NHL jobs. In recent years, we've also seen a trend of European goalie prospects blossoming and becoming a coveted free agent. Last year, it was Jonas Gustavsson and this year Jussi Rynnas.
Montreal had goalie depth – more than they needed – and the worst thing you can do with goalie depth is let it wither on the vine and squander it. Buffalo did that with Mika Noronen and only got a second-rounder who turned into Jhonas Enroth.
The difference between Noronen and Halak is that the Slovak netminder established himself as a NHL player and, until faltering against Philadelphia along with the rest of his team, was having a great playoff. In helping his team knock off top seeds Wa