Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Go Caps Go?

A GM should maintain some semblance of objectivity towards players. They are, after all, employees, contracted to perform a service for some specific length of time, for a set fee.

But it's a little hard to maintain that objectivity when it comes to Cristobal Huet. He was, after all, the man who almost single handedly saved the team when it went into its Jose Theodore-induced freefall through the standings.

He came in as a virtual afterthought in the trade for Mathieu Garon, right after the 2003-04 season. Garon was the Habs backup netminder at the time, but only after Theo had seemingly laid claim to his status a the #1. Garon was thus deemed expendable, and was traded to the LA Kings for Radek Bonk, a largely disappointing centerman. Cristobal Huet was thrown in, as the Habs had no other backup goaltender with NHL experience.

With the lockout the next season, Huet didn't get a chance to play for the Habs until 2005-06, the same year when Theo fell apart. Habs coach Claude Julien took to playing Huet more and more often, until GM Bob Gainey decided that his team had to go with his anointed #1 -- and fired Julien.

It was midway through the 2005-06 season that Gainey realized Julien was right. Gainey had stepped behind the bench, and could see first hand what Julien experienced. Not only was Theo that bad, but Huet was that good. Huet saved the season for the Habs and took them to the playoffs, where they lost to the Hurricanes -- but only after some liberties were taken with Huet by the 'Canes forwards and Saku Koivu was lost to an eye injury that threatened to end his career.

So it wasn't by accident that the Washington Capitals were left off the list of potential first round matchups for the Habs this postseason (see previous post). It would simply be too awkward to be cheering against the man who showed many Habs players, press and fans what it means to be a professional athlete.

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