So I'm watching Team Canada Dry, a perfect commercial tie-in, freeze up Sunday night in the Olympics and I'm thinking the Blackhawks are next. Misery loves company and all that and no matter how far Cristobal Huet has traveled during the Olympic break, he won't be shocked to learn people still get confused easily over the Chicago goalies and think his first name is Anti, because who isn't Anti Huet and who hasn't stewed up their own favorite Hawks' goalie trade rumor in the past week just to stay fashionable?
There is an elephant in the room and this time it's not me. I don't know much, but I know a championship is not won with elephants in the room and I now have serious doubts whether we will be sipping from Cinderella's slipper in a few months in Chicago, or whether it will be business as usual and slurps straight from the bottle neck as we debate whether Stan Bowman should have dumped Huet or kept Huet or drowned Huet in the bath tub when no one was paying attention to this cat, fixated on hearing a Tiger apologize for what we all would have done if only we'd had the same damn chance to jump in the saddle and ride, baby, ride into the sunset.
I'm not sure if the persistent trade rumors, which cagey GM Bowman has seen fit not to deny loudly--oblivious to giving Huet a rest when he isn't working--mean that people trust Antti Niemi and his unproven record, really distrust Huet and his unproven record, or just desire any divorce to shake up their boredom and wonder if they can live happily ever after with a pickup to be named later and his unproven record.
So we have been subjected in recent weeks to a series of blind dates with Marty Turco and Tomas Vokoun and Ty Conklin and....hell, why not throw in Marty Brodeur, who may as well be available considering he is dragging down the loonie in Canada much faster than Huet's slow slide in some hearts and minds has seized hold of Chicago's choking salary cap and steadily throttled it faster than you can say Drew Peterson strikes again.
In case you hick, neophyte Team USA bandwagon riders don't know, the loonie is a gold-colored, broned-plated dollar coin, and at this very moment, neither gold nor bronze seem to be colors or riches attached with or attainable by those counterfeiters from Team Canada.
Here we have had the Blackhawks playing in the Stanley Cup finals for months now, the exact same way Wayne Gretzky had ticketed Team Canada for a certain gold medal, and suddenly it's gone wrong. A group of Americans who were considered not to have enough offense, and surely not enough experience and know-all, have changed the map of hockey in one bold crayon swipe like some brash preschoolers screwing around with gold, silver, bronze and some handy black crepe paper to hang on Team Canned, which appears ready for storage on a bottom shelf.
And I can see that scenario revisted in the Stanley Cup playoffs. All those visions we have in Chicago of what will be, turn out to be so much bad information. Because no one seems to trust Huet, not even Bowman, who allows the trade rumors to proceed to the March 3 deadline rather than pull the fried Frenchman out of the ring of fire and call a halt to the game of badminton that bandies Huet back-and-forth like useless fodder rather than someone entitled and able to win a title.
Huet is certainly much fresher than Vokoun, who must have a few dings in him after being subjected to 1,717 shots in 51 games this season for the Florida Panthers. Huet has faced a mere 957 shots against him in 42 games. But since Vokoun leads the league with a .931 saves percentage and Huet putters along with a .903 after being subjected to lesser punishment, a rumor on ESPN.com that Vokoun could be coming to Chicago with 1598 saves compared to Huet's 864 leaves us breathless with anticipation to see what a beat-up Vokoun could do when there really is a defense playing around him and whether his 7 shutouts could become 10 or 12.
I think it says it all when ESPN's Pierre LeBrun tempers his rumor by saying one source tells him not to discount Vokoun waiving his no-trade to accept a move to Chicago while a different source tells him to forget about any such deal. I suppose that makes it 50-50 to happen, although even the source promoting the deal only gave it passing credence as a big old "maybe, could-be, might happen...if." Those are always good sources, about the same as your aunt Mabel's tips, or Rick Tocchet and Wayne Gretzky teaming up to figure how to roll the dice in Phoenix and still coming up snake eyes every time.
Next time you need some advice, don't call on Wayne. The Great One has finally lost his touch and he should retire from the prediction business.
What toll will this so-called break take on Huet? Even if he and Niemi return to net soon as Chicago's tandem, as should be widely expected since the improbable seldom happens, is Huet still mentally tough enough to take the pounding of a stretch run? Methinks he is doubting himself, one of his specialties from last season.
There have been a run of rumors allowed to percolate long enough to let Huet know that he might not just be a backup to Niemi at present, but also a third or fourth choice if Bowman can't barter for a more capable goalie who won't cause as many sleepless nights. Hard as he tried to distance himself from Huet if the unchallenged rumors are to be believed, there is no way to buy Bowman welcoming Huet back with a hug and a denial that anything occurred.
And if Bowman doesn't tell us soon he never tried to replace Huet, then there is no reason really to believe him. And if Bowman doesn't trust Huet, why should we? Why should his team that has everything to lose if neither Huet nor Niemi is the right man for the right moment in Chicago history? These moments don't come around every season.
The thing about Niemi is that the Hawks have never given him a chance to stay in net and learn about survival during a losing streak. Coach Joel Quenneville has played him just as long as the team has won. But as soon as Niemi stumbles, Huet will get the call again. And what does that say about Niemi? What does it say about Huet?
It says to me that neither one is the Blackhawks' real first choice. It says to me if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, it will have to be in spite of their goalies.
It says to me Chicago is in trouble. And we don't even know it, fixated by those alluring mistresses of defense and offense that the rest of the team provides most games.
Maybe you found the post-game handshake between America's Patrick Kane and Canada's Jonathan Toews quite poignant Sunday night. I found it unsettling, envisioning a premature playoff exit in Chicago would once again bring us this conga line with an ashen-faced Toews and a smirking Kane.
The unsettled goalie argument leaves us with a huge elephant bouncing around the room, one not afraid to lay a steaming dump right on your carpet and let you play in the droppings.
Team Canada is likely going to dump Brodeur soon and go next game to Roberto Luongo in net, which is a better alterntive than the Blackhawks have, but I figure it's too late in either case to make a difference.
Is it too late for the Hawks goaltending picture to be resized and reframed? Do you prefer status quo or just anybody but Huet? Do you figure Niemi is big enough and quick enough and determined enough to arrive on the scene when the Hawks most needed him? Or he is only good in brief spurts, such as shootouts?
I figure from here the picture will get fuzzier and blurrier and more unfocused as the Hawks try Niemi on the one hand and Huet on the other hand and keep juggling the balls in the air.
I figure the Hawks have their excuse ready-made if things go bad. And that's worrisome.
Anti Huet or Antti Niemi? Or Savior To Be Named within the next week? What's your pick? And does it still matter?
If Bowman isn't ready to support Huet vocally, are you? Right now, right here. Say it loud and say it proud: Huet or bust.
Any way you slice it, it might be the decision, made or unmade, that brings the Hawks down and leaves us looking to restructure for next season and another run.
Wait 'til Next One Goalie? Will people buy another One Goal campaign if it's One And Done like 1991? Two For The Road doesn't have the same ring.
I know there are a lot of new Team USA bandwagon riders at the moment. But Hawk fans should pay more attention to Team Canada.
Their collapse under intense pressures to succeed at long last in front of adoring fans may be more pertinent to what is happening in Chicago. And what is about to happen.
Say it ain't so, Stan. Just say something. Take a stand. Tell us what you believe.
And if you want Huet back in good working condition, take a stand by saying so right now, before the trade deadline is come and gone with any idea left that Chicago (or you) really trusts Huet at all.