I couldn’t help but snicker when I read that Chicago GM Stan Bowman decided not to trade Cristobal Huet because he “believes in the Detroit model” of protecting an average goalie with great defense and goal support. That’s a cute concept, Stan, except for the fact that Detroit didn’t wildly overpay a goalie who hadn’t shown that he could consistently produce results over the long haul.
The affliction might not be limited to these three goalies, but I’ve always had a suspicion that Jose Theodore, Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin mysteriously play a whole lot better when they need to earn a new paycheck. It’s human nature, after all, but NHL teams need to be weary of these anomaly seasons.
Let me say that these guys aren’t the only possible culprits and this isn’t a universal issue. Really, though, you have to hand it to Marty Turco – the guy’s just too honest to pretend to be an NHL goalie anymore. I’m also sure that some of this comes from my own weird grudges toward the goalies (Khabibulin’s facial tics, Huet’s smarmy demeanor and Theo’s … existence).
But there’s a little fire to back up all the smoke.
While the Bulin Wall was fairly steady in his Lightning days, he won a Cup in his contract year there. That encouraged Chicago to give him a big contract that he didn’t live up to until (wait for it) his contract year in 08-09. Khabibulin’s save percentage went from about 91% to about 92% (more significant than you think), he won 25 of 42 GP and had his lowest GAA in Chicago. This prompted Edmonton to sign the aging goalie to a sizable deal; he’s had a disastrous season ravaged by injury and his DUI charges. Yikes.
Theodore’s career features “convenient” improvements too. There’s some evidence this year in Washington, but his Avs’ run was particularly comical. Suddenly, a goalie who had a GAA above 3 and a save percentage below 90% became a solid NHL goalie again.
Huet is a master of the contract year hot streak. He burst onto the scene with Montreal that way, but really swindled Chicago with the run he had after being traded to the Capitals. Huet had an otherworldly run of 11-2-0 with a 93.6% save percentage and a 1.63 GAA. Now he’s back to being mediocre.
The lesson of this rant is that NHL teams need to be weary of atypical years for goalies. Before you give a guy $5.6 million per year, make sure he can actually do that for more than one season. Or, I guess, you can go with the Caps and Blackhawks models (the blindfolded dart throw).