Blackhawks Confidential

Huet ventures toward his longest season; Chicago fans quake in terror at a 34-year-old virgin

huetottawa.jpgCristobal Huet is about to take a journey like none other in his career. It has nothing to do with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and the other tour stops ahead.

The Blackhawks goaltender is seven games away from playing the most games ever in a season for the same team during his NHL career. Who knows what will happen when Huet is asked to shoulder more of a workload and more responsibility than he has previously been assigned to handle. Coping is so far not one of his lifetime strengths between the pipes, where the organ has played the requiem more than the ragtime for him.

Anything beyond 42 games in one city is new ground for Huet. Might it be made of quicksand, sucking the life out of him and us? Or can he be, for once, a survivor?

If a large segment isn't sold on him yet after 36 more games this season of uncertain provenance (from the French word provenir, meaning where the hell did this guy come from?), we are all venturing onto thin and dangerous ice, a hot spot where no one knows how he will hold up with the longest season and biggest challenge yet before him.

Biggest Loser or American Idol? No one really knows. Not coach Joel Quenneville. Not his teammates. Not Huet. No one really can tell us what we can expect, since Huet has never exactly been where he's going.

And especially not all those wary Blackhawks fans. They look at Huet honestly and see a 34-year-old who has never played at an elite level for an extended length of time. Huet truthfully is just a few years from retirement, so it's now or never for him, and quite ominously many people think it might be never and he will drag down the best chance the long-downtrodden Hawks' organization has had in decades to win a Stanley Cup and revive their historically bruised image.

Jeremy Roenick, who tackles opinions the same way he used to jam opposing skaters, just stepped on whatever small chance he had to have his number retired by the Hawks. Roenick went on ESPN radio in Chicago Wednesday morning and insisted the Hawks would be wiser to trade for a goalie rather than a superstar scorer like Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk (who JR thinks is selfish), because neither Huet nor Andy Niemi seem the answer to a successful Stanley Cup run.

I guess we don't need to await news JR has been hired as GM Stan Bowman's new assistant.

The Hawks might have to rescind Roenick's Heritage Night. Since no such trade is going to happen, JR just buried the Hawks for all intents and purposes by saying they don't have a championship chance with these goalies. Nice season while it lasted, eh, JR? Even shorter than '90-91 when the big Stanley Cup dreams vanished in the first round in Minnesota.

Now, JR has been known to be right at times. And he has been known to be vociferous for no reason except to be known for being vociferous. He really didn't clamor for a goalie deal quite as much as ESPN promos claimed he did, but he did diss Huet and Niemi, trying to soften his slaps by calling them "good goaltenders."

"He can probably get you through two rounds (of the playoffs]," JR said about Huet. "It remains to be seen if (Huet and Niemi) can take it to the next level."

I predict there will be no plans by the Hawks to cancel the season because JR believes that Huet and Niemi together add up to an eventual heartbreak in Chicago.

The real question becomes that when Huet plays more games than ever, will he overload and underperform? Will he overcome fearful expectations and successfully fly underneath the radar and into the warm embrace of some chastened Chicago fans?

Some loathe him. Some love him. Some just want him to be quicker post-to-post, sharp enough to get into position consistently, smart enough not to dip into his butterfly when shooters initially cross the blue line and man enough to speak to the media after losses and show a dependable character to assume responsibility that hasn't always been so evident from him, win or lose.

Some badly want to support him. If only...

Responsibility off ice translates to a guy who can be trusted on ice. That's what worries you about Huet. At 34, it seems he still has a hell of a lot to learn.

I mean, that's true of me at 60, too. But I'm a lost cause. I hope for better for our baby Huey.

His finest hour was probably his 13-game spurt with the 07-08 Washington Capitals when he was traded there late in the season by Montreal. He had 11 wins in 13 games, a .936 saves percentage and a 1.63 goals-against for the Caps. Those are the best numbers he has ever posted, but it didn't last long enough.

They ultimately were tempered by his 3-4 record for those Capitals in seven playoff games with a .909 save percentage and a 2.93 goals-against. In 16 NHL playoffs games played for the Canadiens, the Capitals and the Hawks, Huet is 6-10 with a .917 save percentage to go with a 2.73 goals-against.

Those are the numbers that fuel the tough talk of people such as JR.

Give him enough time and Huet seems to suffer, unable to endure long periods of strain and stress. Give him a good defense and brief challenges and Huet can impress, the way he did last time the Hawks traveled west and Huet beat the Flames, the Oilers and San Jose with simply five goals against him during this peak period for him between Nov. 19-25.

Huet's largest workload for one team in a season was his 42 games for the '06-'07 Canadiens when he won 19 with a .916 save percentage and 2.81 GAA. After seeing him 39 games the next season, when he won 21 of them, Montreal was ready to bid a fond adieu to up-and-down Huet, whose playoff record was a meager 2-4 for the '05-06 Canadiens.

Quenneville's immediate decision is whether to start Niemi over Huet Thursday night in Calgary after Huet, with the help of a porous defense, has given up 14 goals in three of his last four games (12 at even strength), the other being a shutout.

Quenneville seems to have no plans to start Niemi on a consistent basis. While many like to talk of that possibility, Q has committed to Huet time and again this season and I see just no reason to expect that to change, short of Huet starting to allow too many dumb goals per game to justify his existence or JR being named the Hawks coach and calling Ed Belfour and Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall out of retirement.

The Hawks and Huet have responded strongly and quickly to their few down times all season. They will find a surly mob awaiting them in Calgary, but the rabble rousers are out to hang beseiged brothers Brent and Darryl Sutter together from the crossbar, at the same time they kick slackard Dion Phaneuf out of town and trade 10 players or thereabout from the sound of their incensed media and bloggers.

The Flames fans are pissed. Hawks fans are still confident, but alert for trouble. JR is on to his next microphone and more ass-biting to stay relevant.

The times call for more reasonable minds than ones that want to trade for Ron Hextall before the March 3 deadline. We need Huet. We need Niemi. And we will have them, right or wrong.

It can work out well, as long as Huet decides he wants to grow up at the age of 34 and be a responsible member of a championship team who plays a full schedule, is recognized as a go-to goalie and doesn't hide his head in his ass.

OK, so this is a rare chance for the Hawks. For Huet, it might be his only chance to sniff a Stanley Cup.

Somebody better drive that simple fact home to him. Either you can own a page of history in the NHL or he can be known forever as a guy who couldn't cut it over the long haul and isn't someone to depend on.

Seven games from now, we'll start to see if Huet is a man or a mouse. It should be a boon to the recession with Hawks fans needing to stock up now on adult beverages, knowing Huet for certain will drive us to drink hearty, be he a champion or a chump.

Maybe he's just a hidden mole to jack up liquor sales for all the Wirtz distributorships. Who says he's good for nothing?

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16 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Michel, having watched Monsieur Huet 'sur le vif' (that's French for 'in living color' on his last two visits to the frozen expanse north of your land which is my native land, I can testify that Cristo has been less than crispy both times.

So, for that matter, have Les Hawques, being poutined at the Bell Center last year, and now bonked this year, at Scotiabank Place.

As you so purposefully postulate, Huey is at the 'croisée des chemins' (that's French, eh, for crowded freakin' intersection) in his career.

Is he forever to be the Existential Goaler, whose fate is in the hands of Fate rather than in his catching glove?

Is he doomed to join the list of francophone filet mignons who have tended the twine for the Indian Headmen, like Dejordy, Chevrier, Cloutier, Thibault and Lalime?

If Molière had a favorite hockey club, they would no doubt be the Blackhawks...because drama is their middle name.

In more concrete terms, I can tell ya, pal, sitting where I was last night at centre ice, Cristobal didn't give me any reason to believe he has what it takes.

But then, the rest of the team--except for Marvelous Marian Hossa--looked like crepes suzette.

Mike Kiley said:

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Not having been screwed by a 34-year-old virgin recently, it'll give many Chicagoans something to think about on lonely nights.

Hostile Hawk said:

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Finally, everyone is coming around.
This post just backs up everything that I have been saying since we signed Huet. Where all of his supporters came from is beyond me. People have asked me for examples on why I think he is a weak goaltender and I am shocked. You said it Mike, his finest hour was back in 07-08 with that great 13 game stretch. Apparently it was enough to get him a big contract, but he is still no starting goaltender. On Jr's comments, he has some reasoning there, but I don't think a decision can be made on Niemi's future just yet. We need to see more of him. 12-3-1 with a 1.90 GAA is not bad and rivals Huet's shining hour.

SharpKane said:

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I feel like Huey's performance is directly related to how well our defense is playing, and how much the other team wants to show us up.

Even though this sounds simple, and probably holds true a lot of the time for a lot of different clubs, the Hawks get hit especially hard on it for one reason.

Huet needs to show up even bigger when our D is not there to bail him out. Other goalies in the league do it night in, night out. They go into the net knowing the teams success or failure rests on them. It seems Huet either does not have the coping skills to rise up to that challenge, visualizing that that is not the case for Les Hawques, the team is soo good.

or he is simply not good enough.

Which is it?

fattybeef said:

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You know Ive spent a better part of this year sticking up for that guy and for all the:

"oh he just needs a few more games"
"oh he just needs some more coaching"
"oh he is an angle guy not a reaction guy"
"oh he had a rough day his goldfish died"
"oh he got cockblocked at the bar by some boner"

if a 34 year old "professional" if you cant get your shit together to earn your pay half way through the season, and theres not some mysterious injury or traumatic emotional event we dont know about, you should sit on your ass and ponder life for a few games.

Its terribly frustrating to watch and its at that point they need to do with neimi what the sox did with big bad bobby jenks (when they gloriously won in 05) and hope they catch lightning in a bottle.

Huet is like a $3,000.00 guitar that wont stay in tune even after youve changed the bridge, tuners and tried 9 different brands of strings. I mean really.

And when the defense gives up 18 shots or less there is no way you should not win the game. Maybe youll drop 1 or 2 like that but the amount of times this guy has shit the bed on games where he has seen little to no action is really really really starting to get on my nerves.

I know weve had this debate before puck and I would say you were right for sure.

FearlessFreep said:

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And when the defense gives up 18 shots or less there is no way you should not win the game.

You do realize that Huet would have needed a shutout to win yesterday's game. Two of those goals should not be solely placed on Huet.

Nevertheless, I do understand where you are coming from - I like the guitar analogy.

Gardien du but 35 said:

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It's sad...the organization has been building up to win a title,and unless this guy gets his schizophrenic act together it'll all go up in flames. I have to believe that Stan Bowman...Joel Quenville...even John McDonough know that this guy is not the Goalie that'll backstop us to a Stanley Cup. Coach Q was very aloof last night when asked about Huet..I know the team did not play up to their expectations, but I can see that they're slowly on the heels when CH is between the pipes and that's downright disturbing. I see him going right back in at Calgary tomorrow night. We've been treated over the years to some big time Goaltenders in Chicago, but I'm sorry...Cristobal Huet is not one of them..I'll still keep the faith...and hope he'll be at his best if we get in the finals...

Mike Kiley said:

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No reason to be sad if we look at the standings. As much as I hesitate to say this, I think Huet will be fine. Let me take another sip of the vodka. In fact, it heartens me to know JR thinks we're toast. That may mean the Stanley Cup is in the bag. Or maybe I'm in the bag. Bring on the Flames.

Dave Morris said:

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Well, Mike, as StanBow is trading Huet for Carey Price, Hawks fans should be able to breathe easy.

Mark Giangreco Roman Wrestler said:

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You're all right. After watching this team lose a middle of the season game on the road, there is no way they are doing anything this year. I believe it was Randy Quaid in Major League 2 who aptly said, "It's over" and in this case, it is applied well. The one thing any hockey nut knows is you need a Hall of Fame goalie to win the cup. One like Nikolai Khabibulin, Cam Ward, Jean Sebastian Giguere, Chris Osgood, and Marc Andre-Fleury. These men all won the cup in the past five years and are still the top 5 goalies in the game today.

Mike Kiley said:

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Man, do I love sarcasm. Great post.

SouthSideHawkMan said:

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Mike I'm scared, I had a nigtmare that the Hawks lost in the 1st round to the Dead Wings thanks to a weak showing by Christo, please tell it was only a dream!

Mike Kiley said:

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No, I think it happened and Moe Howard was in goal. Curly and Larry were playing with Todd Bertuzzi.

Tab said:

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Curly, Larry and Bertuzzi... wasn't this Detroit's checking line in Howe's first season up there?

Tab said:

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Could it be that the Olympic break will actually help the Hawks out this year? It'll give Huet a couple weeks to get his junk right, Quenneville a couple weeks to give his "you're my #2 now" talk in the mirror a thousand times, and, most importantly, it'll give fans two+ weeks without having to watch Cam Barker (if he's still here by then).

I'm going to stand by my school of thought that the Hawks should buy out Huet after this season, re-up w/ Huet for around $1.75M, and bring in a backup in the range of Ellis or Nittymaki for the same. We'd be saving a net of at least $1M, if not more depending on how much the Hawks spend on the backup spot. It would also solve this headache moving forward. considering the deep free agent class, trading Huet isn't going to happen without taking salary back, which defeats the purpose of making the deal in the first place.

Mike Kiley said:

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That sounds so complex Bowman might need to employ a 5-year study committee to examine all the implications. Don't tax the man. He hasn't done anything yet and he won't if you keep asking him to be so creative.

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