Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Cristobal Huet Autographed Card

Because of their usual lack of offensive firepower since the days of Alexei Kovalev Saku Koivu Vincent Damphousse Stéphane Richer Bobby Smith Guy Lafleur, the focus and props for Montréal Canadiens results usually go to the starting goalie, while the blame usually goes to the head coach or GM.

This explains why the Molson Cup, given annually to the player who received most "Three Stars" votes since 1972-73 usually goes to the netminder regardless of star status. As a matter of fact, here is the complete list of winners and number of times the award's been given out:

1. Carey Price (Goalie, 8 times)
2. Guy Lafleur (Left Wing, 7 times including a record six consecutive)
3. Patrick Roy (Goalie, 4 times)
    José Theodore (Goalie, 4 times)
4. Jeff Hackett (Goalie, 2 times)
    Stéphane Richer (Right Wing, 2 times)
    Mats Naslund (Left Wing, 2 times)
    Mark Recchi (Right Wing, 2 times)

And all the following players have each won it once: Ken Dryden (Goalie), Larry Robinson (Defense), Mario Tremblay (Right Wing), Steve Penney (Goalie), Guy Carbonneau (Centre), Russ Courtnall (Right Wing), Kirk Muller (Centre), Pierre Turgeon (Centre), Saku Koivu (Centre), Alexei Kovalev (Right Wing), Cristobal Huet (Goalie), Jaroslav Halak (Goalie), Alex Galchenyuk (Centre/Left Wing), Brendan Gallagher (Right Wing).

Of course, those results are rigged, because Price got First Star of games in which he let in 4 goals or when the other option would have been to give all three stars to opposing players on home ice, so Koivu probably should have at least one more and Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov should also have at least one each, but the fact of the matter is that ever since Jacques Lemaire instilled a defense-first system in 1984 that every head coach except Carbonneau has followed to a T, the goalie has been the focus and recipient of all the attention, warranted or not.

Speaking of Carbonneau's system, Huet's win came in 2006-07, when the Habs finished fourth in their division and narrowly missed the playoffs, by a single game, with Halak carrying the team on his shoulders down the stretch but Huet insisting on playing the final game after returning from injury and getting blown out and letting six Toronto Maple Leafs goals go past him on 35 total shots; the team made up for lost ground the following season by winning their division. This signalled the end of his tenure in Montréal and he was traded to the Washington Capitals the following season.

While he received end-of-season All-Star Team votes during his tenure with the Canadiens, it was his season split between the Habs and Caps that got him some Vezina Trophy votes, five in total, including one for second-place and a third-place vote from the NHL's 30 GMs. In a controversial move, Martin Brodeur won it that year when it clearly should have gone to Jean-Sébastien Giguère (2.12 GAA and .922 save percentage) ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeni Nabokov, Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas and Huet.

Huet would sign with the Chicago Blackhawks the following summer and go on to win the Stanley Cup platooning with Antti Niemi in his second and final season with the team before returning to Europe. In 2014-15, he was clearly the best goalie in Europe, smack-dab in the middle of a six-year stint with Lausanne HC, posting a 24-11-2-4 record in 41 games with a 1.86 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, coming at the heels of a season where he had had a 2.06 GAA and .928 save percentage.

Still, I choose to remember him most as the Habs' #1 goalie, the second to hold that title and be shipped off to make room for Price (after Theodore, before Halak). He had a semi-stand-up style reminiscent of Hackett's and a butterfly that was square and bulky, as shown on this picture that was probably taken during a pre-game warmup session:
That's card #106 from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Victory set, and he signed it in black sharpie just weeks before getting traded to Washington for a second-round pick.

He is now Lausanne's goaltending coach and will be the Ambassador for the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympics. He's also a perfect entry as #39 in my Habs Numbers Project.

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