Where Are They Now? David Aebischer

Photo: Laurent Daspres

By Steven Ellis, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

OAKVILLE, ON — Ah, the NHL trade deadline, always a stressful time for NHL players, teams, and fans alike. Luckily for Canadiens fans, Montreal made their deal the day prior to the cut-off mark, acquiring defenseman Davis Drewiske from the LA Kings for a fifth round draft pick, and now that it has passed, we can look forward to the playoffs. Personally, I have been disappointed with how the club has done in recent years when it comes to making trades at the deadline, but no trade infuriated me more than the Jose Theodore for David Aebischer trade on March 8, 2006.

You see, Theo was the reason I got into hockey, and literally for one of the dumbest reasons possible: I loved his helmet. Well,  maybe that isn’t the full reason why, but he was the player that got me really interested in the sport and in goalies in general. It’s also hard to not like a goalie who won the Vezina and the Hart trophy in the same season, so trading him away made me emotional for sure. But this isn’t about me nor Theodore.

Aebischer was drafted 161st overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft after playing 10 games with HC Fribourg-Gottéron in the NLA in Switzerland. He moved to North America in 1997 and spent the 1997–98 season in the ECHL, first with the Chesapeake Icebreakers and then with the Wheeling Nailers, two of the strangest hockey names you will ever hear. He would later go on to spend two campaigns with the Hershey Bears, the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche at the time, with whom he compiled a 46-33-7 record. When the Avalanche traded back-up goaltender (and future Hab) Marc Denis to the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 1999-2000 offseason, Aebischer became the full-time back-up to star goaltender Patrick Roy (of course, another former Canadien.)

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The 2000-2001 campaign started off strong for the young Swiss goalie with a ton of potential, winning his first two NHL games (recording a shutout against the Chicago Blackhawks) and compiling a 12-7-3 record in 26 games while posting a .920 save percentage. Colorado proved to have a strong that season, as Roy backstopped the Avalanche to their second Stanley Cup championship, defeating the New Jersey Devils in a seven game final series. With the win, Aebischer became the first Swiss hockey player to win the Stanley Cup.

Abby would spend two more seasons as Colorado’s backup netminder before doing the unthinkable: replacing the legendary Roy in net. That task didn’t phase the Fribourg, Switzerland native, as he would go on to win 32 matches in 62 games during the 2003-2004 campaign. At the conclusion of the season, Aebischer returned to Switzerland and played for HC Lugano in the Nationalliga A, the same league he began his professional career in.

Unfortunately for Abby, his career only would begin to go on the downhill from there. A weak start to the 2005-2006 season began speculation that the Avalanche were looking in a different direction when it came to their starting goaltender. Peter Budaj (look, a current Canadien!) was beginning to come into his own as a talented prospect, but they didn’t think he was going to be ready for another season or two. Over in Habsland, Theodore was on a major career “Avalanche,” as he tested positive for a banned substance in a pre-Olympic screening that kept him off the Canadian Olympic squad that season, and just needed a fresh new start. In both case, making a one for one goalie swap seemed like the smart move, and would trade both troubling goaltenders prior to the 2006 trade deadline.

That summer, Montreal re-signed him to a one year deal worth $1.9 million. It didn’t long for Aebischer to steal the spotlight away from French goaltender Cristobal Huet, who took a backseat to the pre-lockout Aebischer. Abby wasn’t able to ride the hot streak for long, however, and served as Huet’s back-up for the majority of the 2006–07 season, posting a 13–12–3 record. The Canadiens failed to make the playoffs and Montreal opted not to re-sign Aebischer, ending his short tenure with the Habs.

Aebischer PHX
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Looking to just get his career back on track, Aebischer signed a one-year, $600,000 contract with the Phoenix Coyotes. After losing a training camp battle to Alex Auld (another former Canadien, of course) and Mikael Tellqvist, the two time Olympian was waived. He went unclaimed and was subsequently assigned to the Coyotes AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage, before getting loaned to HC Lugano in Switzerland to make room on the San Antonio roster for Auld, who had been replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov. After only game with the Coyotes that season, Aebischer was to never see ice in an NHL regular season game again.

He would spend the next four seasons with Lugano, posting respectable numbers. He was never able to lead the team to a playoff victory during his time there as the club always finished mid-pack in the NLA standings. Despite a a 12-24-0 record in 2010-2011, the brand new Winnipeg Jets decided to give the goaltender a second chance in the NHL, giving him a try-out contract that concluded after only two pre-season starts. The Jets didn’t have a need for the aging goaltender with Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason already manning the pipes, and would assign Aebischer to their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps. After 15 wins in 31 games as a backup in the AHL, Aebischer decided to take his talents back to Switzerland, where he spent the 2012-2013 sesaon with the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers.

While Aebischer’s time was short-lived in Montreal, he proved to be a decent backup to Huet during his time there. It was the right move as Theodore was starting to become a locker room nuisance in need of a fresh start elsewhere, and Aebischer was in danger of his losing his job in Colorado. Well, he didn’t exactly steal the show in Montreal, however it’s interesting when you realize how quickly a goaltender’s career can trail off in the NHL.  I always liked Theodore, and was disappointed when he was traded for an unthriving netminder like Aebischer, but after meeting him in Toronto after a practice one day, I started to warm up to the goaltender, who I really wished accomplished more in a bleu, blanc et rouge uniform.

Follow me on Twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.