You don't often hear NHL general managers candidly break down the financial specifics of negotiations with players. But the Washington Capitals clearly feel burned after Cristobal Huet and his agent Stephen Bartlett signed with the Chicago Blackhawks for four years and $22.5 million today.
"The process with Cristobal has been a long one," said GM George McPhee on a conference call this evening, following the Capitals' signing of free agent goalie Jose Theodore to a two-year deal. "We basically matched their demands, their requests, and still didn't get it done before we got to free agency. The day after the season, we offered three years at $3.7 [million], and they responded about a month later with their number, which was three years at five, and we said that makes sense. If you come down 10 or 15 percent or we come up 10 or 15 percent we can get a deal done. We came up to $4.3 [million], and they didn't come down. We came up to $4.6 [million], and they didn't come down.
"So we finally said, OK, we'll do the three years at five [million], and they said, 'We'll check out free agency,'" said McPhee, who said the Capitals actually went above that final number during negotiations today.
"It got to the point where the term was getting too long and the number was getting too high. We wanted to be pragmatic about this and do the right thing for the club short term and long term, and we got Theodore, who I think is every bit as good a goaltender, for a two-year term and less money."
McPhee likened the swap of Huet and Theodore to when the Capitals didn't pursue Dainus Zubrus and signed Viktor Kozlov for less money and fewer years.
I asked McPhee the question I've been asking about Theodore since he decided to go UFA: How can you be sure that a player who was in a defensive system with the Colorado Avalanche, and who was playing for a contract, will give you the solid numbers of last season rather than the mediocre numbers of his previous seasons?
McPhee managed to turn the question in another reason why signing Huet would not have been in the Capitals' best interests.
"You can never be sure about any of that, and that's why you have to be careful with signing goaltenders. If you sign a player to play on your first line, and you're paying him a lot of money and it's not working out, sometimes you can get away with dropping him down to the fourth line. But if you make a mistake on goaltenders, you're in trouble," said McPhee.
"If you've got a top-five goaltender and you want to go long-term deal for big money, that makes sense. Any of the other goaltenders, it's better to be smart and prudent with short term deals that keep them sharp."
As for Jose Theodore, who joined the call later, I asked him if he received any offers that went beyond the two years he received from the Capitals.
"For me, a two-year deal is a perfect deal," he said. "Not last year, but in the two previous years, I've struggled. So I still think I got my game back on, but I think two years are perfect so you can readjust your position. I'm really, really happy with the offer."
Well, that was actually sort of refreshing.
Of course, Capitals fans are bitter and confused about the whole ordeal. Like Shannon, a Caps fan who created this snarky "tribute" to Huet's departure (and who believed, at the time, that Ray Emery would replace him in D.C.). Funny stuff, and with a Traveling Wilburys song, no less:
It's been an extraordinarily odd day for the Washington Capitals' goaltenders (and, we imagine, Ted Leonsis). Beyond the Huet and Theodore flip-flop, there's Olaf Kolzig signing with the division rival Tampa Bay Lightning for a one-year contract that could earn him $2.5 million.
Ah, but you don't drink the Koules-Aid without some wackiness. Remember goalie Mike Smith, the main player the Bolts received in the Brad Richards trade with the Dallas Stars? Yeah, Sportsnet says he's on the trading block. If this is Tampa's new owners saying they want to go with a rather rusted Kolzig as their starter in 2008-09 ... this is going to take, like, a silo of Koules-Aid to swallow, boys.