Theo, Huet, Bulin: contract year goalies?

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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).

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.