Does Huet Even Make Sense in Vancouver?

Thomas Drance
August 08 2012 09:43AM

Early Tuesday morning, Kevin Woodley of InGoal magazine tweeted out a link to this article from French sports media site L'Equipe.

The article in question quoted ex-Chicago Blackhawk and Rollie Melansons pupil Cristobal Huet as saying he's been in contact with the Canucks (as well as the Los Angeles Kings) regarding an NHL job this summer. If my French isn't too rusty the exact quote is "je fais partie de la liste" (pretty straight forward translation: "I'm on their list") would suggest a level of consideration beyond the two sides simply keeping in touch.

Even before Huet's comments were contradicted by his agent, it was clear that these comments needed to be taken with a whole bag of salt. After all, Huet is tooting his own horn here and it's not like he's a disinterested party.

Put another way, I'm not going to read very much into the possibility that Huet could return to the NHL until the "veteran backup whisperer" (AKA the Province's Ben Kuzma) writes that the Canucks should consider Huet as a backup. Kuzma, you may remember wrote something similar to that about Al Montoya the day before Montoya signed with the Jets (and you wonder why prospective NHL backups e-mail the Kuz lobbying for a job). But there's nothing else to write about this week, so let's look into whether Huet makes any sense as Schneider's backup next season. Spoiler alert: not really.

More after the jump.

When we last saw Cristobal Huet in the NHL, he was having a ghastly season with the 09-10 Chicago Blackhawks. After posting a sub .900 save percentage in 46 starts on a thoroughly dominant team, Huet lost the starters mantle to then rookie Antii Niemi. That team went on to win the Stanley Cup, and the following summer they loaned Huet (and his bloated contract) to HC Fribourg-Gottéron of the Swiss A-League (NLA).

In 7 NHL seasons, Huet was never a work-horse starter. He was above league average from 2005-2008, but the results from his final two NHL seasons are very inauspicious. Since leaving the NHL Huet has posted two solid seasons with a .919 save percentage in 39 games during the 2010-11 season and a .932 save percentage in 41 games in 2011-12 in the NLA. Those are solid numbers however, the Swiss-A League is one of the weaker national elite leagues in Europe. In fact, based on the league translation numbers, the quality of shooters Huet was facing over the past two seasons were slightly below the talent level one would find in the AHL.

Eddie Lack on the other hand, facing tougher shooters and getting into more games has posted a .924 and a .925 save percentage in the AHL over the past two seasons respectively. He's also 24 and looks to be on the upswing of his development. Huet on the other hand, is at the age where goaltenders begin to fall off a cliff. Here's an old graph Petbugs put together tracking goaltending performance by age [originally posted over at theleafsnation.com]:

As you can you see, Cristobal Huet is at an age (he's thirty-seven) where goaltender performance tends to fall right off a cliff. Considering that Huet's numbers were well below league average at ages 33 and 34, I don't see him as a particularly good bet to provide the Canucks with solid goaltending in 2011-12 even in a limited backup role.

Which is okay, since Eddie Lack looks pretty damn ready and excelled against NHL shooters at the AHL level last season... Let's take a step back and pretend that Eddie Lack isn't quite clearly better than Cristobal Huet, because once Luongo is traded (if it ever happens) it will makes sense for the Canucks to acquire a "steady veteran backup" as a counter to Cory Schneider. The eloquent Schneider has never been a full-time NHL starter, and as good as he's been his promotion isn't without risk. Obviously having a proven goaler who can caddy for Schneider should he struggle for a stretch does strike me as useful. 

But acquiring a veteran for the sake of acquiring a guy who is a veteran, is silly and misguided. That's doubly true when you've got a a promising young goaltender in the pipeline, who probably deserves a crack at an NHL roster spot, like the Canucks have with Lack. From my vantage point, Huet looks significantly less likely than Eddie Lack to provide the Canucks with league average goaltending in 20 or so starts next season. So unless it's on a PTO, I'd hope the Canucks pass on Huet.

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 KleptoKlown
August 08 2012, 01:47PM
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Thing with veteran backups is that they always seem to be available. Huet is probably plan C or plan D for the Canucks

Plan A is obviously to trade Luo, have Schneider continue what he has been doing, but in the starters role,and to get Lack some NHL games in order to improve his overall game.

If Schneider stumbles or Lack looks like he needs another AHL season (I doubt either of these are true) then it's time to look for a veteran back.

Until Schneider and Lack prove they are *not* the goalies you thought they were, you have to assume they *are* the goalies you think they are. Give them the chance...but always be ready and prepared with a plan B.

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#3 masa2009
August 08 2012, 02:24PM
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I'm afraid that because of the language barrier, you were tempted to read a bit too much into Huet's quote.

"Je fais partie de la liste" means "I am part of their list", as in "I am one of their options" or "I am one option among others".

So it's not quite as definitive.

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#4 KleptoKlown
August 08 2012, 02:25PM
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Even if it was someone like Theodore, Hedberg, or Vokoun, I would still start with Schneider and Lack.

Lack is ready for his chance, and the Canucks are one of the best teams at easing a player into the lineup.

If the Canucks do sign a veteran backup before the season starts, or specifically before Lack signs his next contract, I could see him going to the SEL as opposed to the AHL. Neither league offers Lack much opportunity to significantly further his development.

It sure is a gamble to have 2 unproven goalies start the season...but remember, the worst Gamble was Troy Gamble.

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#6 Mantastic
August 08 2012, 04:59PM
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can't be worse than cloutier!

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#7 Sixtyliner
August 09 2012, 08:34AM
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@KleptoKlown

Huet would probably be an ideal #1/1A for the Wolves while Lack and Cannata are brought along at the NHL and AHL levels, respectively. If there is an injury to Schneider at any point, I'd feel a lot more comfortable throwing Huet into the fire, because at least if he sucks it's preferable to torching Lack's confidence. Think about Schneider's play in his first couple of call-ups, and consider how sideways things could have gone if he had been forced to start 30 games.

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#8 KleptoKlown
August 10 2012, 04:09AM
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@Sixtyliner

No arguments Huet would be a #1/1A for the Wolves...but I sincerely doubt he is looking for an AHL contract.

Lack should be eased into the NHL much like Schneider was a few years ago...it worked for Schneider, so why not try the same approach with Lack?

You mentioned injuries, and that is the largest gamble starting the season with Schneider and Lack. If worst came to worst, and Schneider went down long term with an injury, the Canucks could very well be boned. If that were to happen, then the team should look at guys like Ellis or Turco. Veterans that are good enough to get you through a rough patch, but guys you wouldn't want to actually depend on the entire season.

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