Blackhawks Confidential

Hawks must explain why Huet is trustworthy

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The Blackhawks, even as they emerge as paper tigers among the NHL elite, will nonetheless be on trial next weekend at their fan convention.

As promising as their future appears for 2009-10, especially with the addition of high-scoring forward Marian Hossa, they will be asked to present indisputable evidence that shows Cristobal Huet is their No. 1 goaltender beyond a reasonable doubt.

Can that case be proven in a weekend of salesmanship? Was Huet worth 4 years at $5.625 million when the Hawks signed him as a free agent in July, 2008? Will you go home from the festivities next Sunday convinced that the net is in the hands of a master goaltender or a never-will-be?

"We decided we'd try to make an impact today to give our fans something to get excited about," general manager Dale Tallon said a year ago about grabbing free agents Huet and Brian Campbell. "When you do that you're going to overpay, but now we have the resources and the ability to do that."

Sometimes when you overpay, you don't get what you bargained for. You just get taken. Does Huet excite you? The jury is out on that emotion when it comes to evaluating him.

Your hopes for a Stanley Cup championship could be no more than a sham, unless Tallon has some Huet trade in mind that he won't discuss yet.

Huet undoubtedly has been extremely good, even great, in flashes. You can pull out your Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass and follow the trail back to Montreal and Washington to prove he has starred in fits and spurts.

But as impressive as Huet was during a 11-2 stretch to end the 2008 regular season on a high for the Capitals, boasting a 1.63 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage, come the postseason and Huet and Washington lost a first-round series to Philadelphia over seven grueling games.

Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey had traded him to Washington in February, 2008, for a second-round draft pick to the consternation of some fans. But Montreal and its young goalie, Carey Price, went one better than Huet and Washington. The Canadiens lost to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Some opinions expressed back then on the internet by Montreal fans at the time of the trade are worth revisiting. You should note that these are mostly fans that appreciated Huet, not his enemies.

"Huet did have some magic in him," wrote one fan. "He was a better than average goaltender who flirted with being great at times."

Another fan countered: "Most teams feel Huet is a backup and not a starter. Huet wasn't the best goalie in the league, but he did an admirable job for us. He'll be missed."

Huet still instilled nervousness in some Canadiens fans that liked him.

"Huet is a better than average backup or a quality 1-a goalie," one fan wrote. "I liked him. I thought he did a great job, but once he got established as our number 1 he continually made me nervous."

He then lamented soft goals against Huet on wrist shots and through the 5-hole.

"Yeah, he can be great, but he's prone to a bad goal that throws his confidence into a tizzy and every other teams knows that."

Anyone care to revisit Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Detroit when Huet was peppered repeatedly and had to removed? Thrown into a tizzy, indeed.

Another Montreal fan complimented Huet's team makeup before dropping the hammer.

"Huet was the consummate team player and a competitor, but I think the team will be better off without him," he said. "Huet continued to let in soft goals. He would stop 33 pucks with 8 great saves, but he would let in 2 or more bad goals to sink the team. I wish him well, but the Habs are better off for the move."

The whole point of going back to these opinions is that they raise present-day questions about Huet's ability to mentally and physically survive a full season in the Chicago net.

He has had durability issues in the past. Some scouting reports point to his "limitations in lateral mobility and overall agility. Must make better in-game adjustments."

The Hawks also need to make better offseason explanations why fans should rely on Huet to not need Nikolai Khabibulin to rescue him this season.

As Sports Illustrated hockey columnist Michael Farber noted recently in saying that it's no surprise to see Khabibulin chase the last possible dollar to sign in Edmonton, he also took a swipe at Huet now being in charge of the Hawks' goaltending fate.

"Good luck with that," he wrote.

The sarcasm was dripping from his computer keys. Not a good sign even in July for what awaits the Hawks next season.

Quite a few doubt Huet? Why shouldn't we? Please answer promptly

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9 Comments

Craig Kanalley said:

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Cristobal Huet is nothing more than a good NHL backup, IMO. Not only was he way overpaid by the Hawks (which had Montreal and Caps fans laughing the day of that signing on forums like HockeyBuzz and elsewhere), but he's proven throughout his career that he is not a reliable starter.

Mike, you've laid out the facts yourself, and that is the situation. He's a shaky starter and a huge risk for the Hawks to take...but it's obvious they're banking on offense to offset any Huet blunders.

Risky business for sure. It may pay off during the regular season, but the playoffs are all that matters. If Tallon was smart, he'd address the goalie situation at some point. Signing a veteran like Martin Biron who is still available could be awfully smart and have the Hawks return to a reliable 1-2 punch.

Forklift said:

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I'm pretty cynical, so I'll put forth the idea here that Khabibulin won't give Edmonton anywhere near his 2008-09 performance until at least 3 years from now, if at all, since all his best seasons have been walk years.
That being said, the signings of Hossa and Madden have gone a long way toward making Huet's life better, since the puck will spend a significant amount of time 200 feet away.
Is Huet an elite goaltender? No. Then again, given the salary cap, can any team truly afford an "elite" goaltender while assembling a team adept at keeping the puck in the other end?
The past 2 seasons have proven you no longer need Patrick Roy in the pipes to earn a lap with the Cup.
That's not to say if the Sharks are truly shopping Nabakov, Tallon won't pick up the phone.

Grimhawk said:

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I say start the season with Huet, unless you can get a team to pay his salary, which I doubt. Then plug in your two young guns, Crawford and Niemi, throughout the year, and hopefully one of them will shine and take over. Look what Mason did with the Bluejackets as a rookie, it can be done. And who knows, maybe Huet is sick of hearing he is no good and he'll play all season like he did in Game 5 against Detroit, though everyone remembers Game 4.

Dave Morris said:

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IMHO it's worth remembering that the Stanley Cup finalists had less than perfect goaltending. Neither Fleury nor Osgood can be called flawless. For the record, the Pens and Wings were 18th and 19th in the NHL in Goals Against last year...the Hawks 5th overall.

The Blackhawks' problems stemmed from gaps in team defense and turnovers--especially in the playoffs--rather than goalie weaknesses.

This should improve next season with the additions of Hossa, Madden, and Kopecky. But Tallon has been clear he expects more from Huet--as he should.

Cristo can, on occasion, be exceptional. He's proven that he can win with the Habs and the Caps--two teams who had, and continue to have, significant problems with team defense. And he can win with the Blackhawks, as he did regularly last year.

Next season he simply has to be reliable, and the Hawks need to give him first-class support.

andrewzerafa@hotmail.com said:

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What seems to be lost in the conversation is the potential for Niemi and/or Crawford to become the Hawks number one goalie. That being said, Huet could still be a suitable goalie if not good enough to backstop the Hawks to a Stanley Cup. If Chris Osgood demonstrates, a hot goaltender is more important in winning a Stanley Cup than a great goaltender who is adequate during the playoffs.

Forklift said:

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Great, now you have Sharp in your header...hope it's not a harbinger...

Mike Kiley said:

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I recommended Hossa. Job security.

cubby23(eric) said:

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Tell me that Josh Mora hasn't beaten every other writer or media personality to the punch, he's reporting that Tallon was fired late Monday and is being replaced by Stan Bowman.

Mike Kiley said:

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Damn, don't you ever sleep. I like Josh and congrats to him. But reading his convoluted ruminations on why it might have happened left me with a headache and no answers.

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