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The Carey Price(notes) vs. Jaroslav Halak(notes) restricted free-agent goalie debate ended suddenly Thursday for the Montreal Canadiens, as Halak was traded to the St. Louis Blues.

Which is stunning on several fronts.

The Blues had just recently opened negotiations with goalie Chris Mason(notes), who will be an unrestricted free agent, signaling to many that he was going to be back as the primary starter next season. (Andy Strickland has insight on the contract numbers.) The Blues were also a team seen as methodically building a winner; does this aggressive move expedite the process?

The trade, first reported by RDS and confirmed by Yahoo! Sports, has Halak going to the Blues for Lars Eller, 21, a center in the AHL drafted 13th overall in 2007; and Ian Schultz, 20, a right-winger taken in the third round in 2008 who has his own Hockey Fights page  — always a good sign. (Pierre LeBrun had the trade details.)

Halak started 43 games last season, going 26-13-5 with a 2.40 GAA.

It was in the playoffs where The Client became a star: His heroics in upset series wins over the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins became one of the stories of the postseason, finishing with a 2.55 GAA and a .923 save percentage. His 53-save performance against the Capitals in Game 6 earned comparisons to those of Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy.

With that on his bio, he was due a huge raise from his $800,000 base salary (and $775,000 cap hit) last season. It was a contract the Canadiens apparently didn't feel would fit in their plans; hence, he's St. Louis Blues property and, at 25, he could be their franchise goalie. At least that's the tune Blues president (and former goalie, of course) John Davidson is singing:

"Jaroslav's play in this year's regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs was remarkable," said Davidson. "He has had very impressive numbers in the NHL and we are thrilled that he will be wearing the Bluenote for us."

Or, as Bob McKenzie notes, could the Blues take Halak to arbitration and get a one-year deal out of it with Halak's UFA time looming? 

Either way, RFA Carey Price is the lone starting goaltender on the roster for the Canadiens. Which means, next season, he could find himself shouldering not only the usual load of preposterous expectations based on draft position, potential, lineage and franchise history, but the added pressure of having replaced an absolute playoff hero between the pipes.

Assuming Price is re-signed, of course.

We'll add some reactions to this post as they come in. Prediction: Anger from Habs fans at the trade and especially at the return on the trade. Halak earned their respect; this almost feels like disrepsect at first glance. Keep an eye on Habs Inside/Out for more. 

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