Greg Wyshynski

If Huet bombs, do the Blackhawks have other options?

Greg Wyshynski
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There was always a chance that Cristobal Huet(notes) would end up being the major story of the Chicago Blackhawks' season, as either the goalie who back-stopped them to a championship or as the anchor who weighed down an all-star roster.

The problem is that Huet is the major story of the Chicago Blackhawks' season on Oct. 19, eight games into the season.

In some ways, his struggles are ahead of schedule: More than a few pundits and fans that have Committed To the Indian this season have done so despite Huet, who has never won a playoff series and never served as a franchise's clear-cut No. 1 starter without a David Aebischer(notes) or a Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) to do half of the season's work. It's all a bit like predicting "The Godfather Part III" would win Best Picture despite the presence of Sophia Coppola in the cast.

Huet's 2-2-1 with a 3.25 GAA (respectable, considering that 25.29 GAA against Calgary in seven minutes of play) and an .840 save percentage -- a putrid number that would rank worst in the NHL were it not for Vesa ".812" Toskala of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Huet's already fallen on his sword after one loss and watched Antti Niemi(notes) match his career total in starts (2) during the first month of the Blackhawks' season.

His teammates have his back; but what if Huet doesn't find his form? There are options for Chicago.

Unless the goalie is a completely loathsome individual whose teammates want him on the next plane to Omsk, the players are going to really around an embattled keeper; which is something Jonathan Toews(notes) did in speaking to ESPN Chicago, regarding the Huet scrutiny:

"It's pretty unfair," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "There is way more pressure on him than there should be. He's a key player on this team. We win as a team, we lose as a team. No one in here points fingers. It's not only frustrating for him but for us sometimes when we hear the jeers during the game, but as a team we are going to pull [together in] moments like that, and we're going to help him out. It's up to us to give a better effort in front of him."

That's nice and all, but it's also fantasyland: What's really unnerving about Huet's start is that Chicago is the second-best team defensively in the NHL in shots allowed, with 166 pucks on net against their goalies. The Blackhawks are also on the positive side on giveaways (55) and takeaways (61). They are playing well in front of him.

There are reasons to believe that Huet can turn this around with a few good efforts: He's historically been a keeper who can roll when he's locked in, like his playoff push with the Washington Capitals two years ago. But Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald isn't waiting for that to happen, claiming that the Hawks have "a big problem on their hands in goal with Cristobal Huet."

He presents a few Huet fixes in his blog Between The Circles:

1. Keep playing him and believe his game comes around.

2. Send him to Rockford and let him work out the kinks in the minors.

3. Keep Huet here to work on his game in practice, start him on the road and play Antti Niemi at home.

4. Trade him, but with his contract (two years left after this one at $5.65 million per year), this is highly unlikely.

Sassone's a pretty plugged-in guy with the Blackhawks, so the fact that he's spelling out a Cristobal-to-the-AHL scenario shouldn't be taken lightly:

Huet would need to clear waivers to go to Rockford, and he would because of his contract. The Hawks still would need to pay him that big salary, but the cap hit would be off the books, which is key.

As the year progresses, and if the Hawks come to decide they need to upgrade their goaltending in order to contend for the Cup, sending Huet to the minors is a way for them to clear cap space to pursue a top-end goalie - as long as they would be willing to bite the bullet and pay Huet more than $5 million to play in Rockford.

Outside of the salary cap, money's not necessarily an issue for the Blackhawks. Sending Huet to the minors now for maintenance could happen; but the latter scenario could be more likely if his struggles continue.

The real issue here is whether there would be another goaltender that would be a sufficient upgrade for Huet on a championship-caliber team. Trusting this team to Antti Niemi isn't the answer. The veterans available for trade, like one of the Islanders' goalies, might not be the answer.

(There's this one guy in Edmonton that would have been the answer, but Chicago already made their choice on him.)

As it stands, the Blackhawks are going to have continue winning in the regular season despite their goaltending. We all know Chicago wants to be the next generation's Detroit Red Wings; let's just consider this part of the mimicry.

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