Habster:

I’ve been looking for a knowledgeable Canadiens fan who could write and post articles about the Montreal Canadiens and hockey in general……..I think I finally found someone who has the writing talent and love of the Montreal Canadiens to help at All Habs.

I would like to introduce Rocket as a new part-time contributor to All Hab and hope you enjoy his first article which I felt was very well thought out with a lot of good points.

By Rocket:

The reaction to Bob Gainey trading Cristobal Huet to Washington has been interesting to watch. First there was surprise and misinformation by the ill-informed Toronto-centric media. Criticism by Mike Milbury and John Ferguson Jr (who called Gainey’s performance the worst on draft day) should be worn as a badge of honour given that they are the two of the worst GM’s in the history of the NHL.

Then there was hysteria and angst expressed by some Canadiens fans based more on emotion (and perhaps heritage) than fact and hockey skill.One common theme seemed to be “why did Gainey get so little for Huet?” A 2nd round pick in 2009 for Huet should be a dose of realism for the Canadiens faithful who made Cristobal a fan favorite despite being a goaltender with poor technique and mediocre skill.

Objectively, the Hockey News ranked goaltenders based on evaluations by NHL GM’s. This year Huet was ranked #22 (he was #21 last year). Getting a 2nd round pick is simply indicative of fair value for Huet. Conversely, Gainey reported that there were many teams lined up with substantial offers for Price and Halak on trade deadline day.

It was really baffling to hear some media talking about the Habs giving up experience and a NHL veteran and gambling their season on a rookie. Saying Huet is a veteran with NHL experience is the same as Hilary Clinton saying that she has presidential experience because she lived in the White House.

The truth is that Huet is 32 years old and is currently in only his 4th year of regular NHL duty. Huet was passed over for 7 years of his NHL eligibility before being picked in the 7th round (214th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings at age 25. That’s hardly the resume of an elite goalie. Huet has never won a playoff series (equal to Price) and has only won 2 of 6 playoff games. The majority of Huet’s career was spent in the European leagues. Where is the experience or veteran status?

Promoters of Huet will often point to his impressive save percentage numbers the past two years. That is somewhat like Leaf fans who point to Darcy Tucker’s stats without acknowledging his empty net goals or contributions to an already decided game. Any knowledgeable hockey fan will concede that the (non-playoff) Montreal Canadiens played a defensive first system, basically a 1-4 for most games. You just have to recall Craig Rivet’s comments about the Canadiens simplistic, very passive forecheck system when he was traded and was asked to compare the system used in San Jose. Why is this relevant? Having 4 or 5 defenders against the opposition’s rush leads to mostly harmless shots from the outside that can easily inflate a goalie’s save percentage.

This year, with the Habs playing a more offensive brand of hockey, Huet’s true abilities and shortcomings have been revealed. In addition, without the entire team in the defensive zone, Huet has tried to play the puck more. It has become obvious that he is one of the worst puck-handling goalies in the league. How then was Huet acknowledged as one of the league’s three stars in January? Simply, the team was on fire and winning. Watching those games, Huet was still giving up at least one bad goal per game. Problem is that Huet’s play became very shaky in February when he began allowing 4 soft goals per game. Unfortunately, Huet doesn’t have the ability to win games on his own; something that Price has done several times already this year.

Gainey, with the advice of Melanson, determined that Huet was the 3rd best goalie on the Canadiens roster. GM’s around the league seem to support that conclusion.

It is fair to say that Guy Carbonneau may not have shared that opinion. However, it is also fair to say that Carbonneau has mishandled his goaltenders all year (including wanting to send Price to Hamilton after training camp). That’s not to say that Carbo is a bad coach. He has made some good decisions this year but it should be remembered that he is still relatively inexperienced.

Last year, Carbonneau’s unfair treatment of the Russian players was a disaster. With the assistance of Gainey, that situation has improved this year and the Russians have flourished. In a similar way, Gainey is providing a guiding hand with the goaltender situation this year to help Carbo develop as a coach. He has saved Carbonneau from being immersed in a goalie controversy on a game-by-game basis. Gainey has rightly anointed the team’s most talented goaltender as #1 when Carbo was having trouble objectively evaluating, motivating, and instilling confidence in his goalies.

Stripping away the emotional allegiance to a popular player, trading Huet was a brilliant move by Bob Gainey. He secured a 2nd round pick in an important draft rather than getting nothing for his #3 goalie. He also stabilized his goaltender situation ensuring that his top 2 would play and provided guidance to his coach. These are all qualities that should be admired, not criticized. Canadiens fans should take hope from the positive steps that this organization is taking towards another Stanley Cup.