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Top Shelf: Godzilla's end in Washington far from storybook

Olaf Kolzig still believes he has good hockey left in him. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Olaf Kolzig still believes he has good hockey left in him. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ticking off Godzilla might be dangerous, but it had to be done.

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee enhanced his team’s goaltending situation by acquiring Cristobal Huet from the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline. But the move certainly didn’t delight 15-year Caps stopper Olaf Kolzig.

Once upon a time, Kolzig’s hot temper tempered his ability to stay focused and stop pucks. But once the goalie they call ‘Godzilla’ got his emotions under control, he went on to put up some scary (good way) numbers.

However, the digits that stand out most about Kolzig these days are .890 (his tied-for-worst-in-the-league save percentage) and 38, the age he’ll be in about a month.

Kolzig has been better of late, going 10-5-2 over the past two months. But can anybody reasonably argue Washington didn’t upgrade its situation by picking up Huet, who was nearly 10 games over .500 with the Habs while posting a .916 save percentage?

Kolzig’s comments on the heels of the trade indicate he isn’t crazy about his longtime home in the Caps’ crease becoming a time-share.

“What I'm shocked about is that there are three goalies here,” said Kolzig recently, referring to the third stopper on the scene, Brent Johnson. “That's probably the thing I'm shocked about. We've got a world-class goaltender coming in.”

It’s hard not to empathize with Kolzig. He’s spent his entire career in Washington after being drafted 19th overall by the Caps way back in 1989. Heck, had he landed in D.C. a couple years earlier he might have stopped Pat LaFontaine’s legendary overtime winner.

In February of 2006, Kolzig’s career was at a crossroads. He was 35, still on top of his game, his contract was expiring and his resume lacked a Stanley Cup. Nobody would have taken issue had he asked Caps management to move him to a contender for one last kick at the silver can.

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Instead, he inked a two-year extension with a lowly team that had its star attached to one diamond among otherwise rough, rough surroundings.

Now that the supplemental talent has sprouted around Alex Ovechkin and the Caps are contending for the playoffs, I’m sure there’s nothing McPhee would like more than to see Kolzig get rewarded for his loyalty by leading this team to the next level.

But McPhee is a GM, not a screenwriter – his purpose isn’t to pen happy endings for everyone. His job is to evaluate a situation and make a call. He made the right one in determining Huet, especially at the measly cost of a second-rounder, can help his team win.

There’s some cruel irony in the fact Washington’s rise seems to be coinciding with Kolzig’s demise. But he obviously doesn’t see it that way.

“I still feel I can play at a high level,” Kolzig told The Canadian Press. “And I'll continue to believe that.”

It’s the nature of the professional athlete to always believe there’s something left in the tank. Kolzig won a Vezina Trophy in 2000. He led the Caps to the Cup final two years earlier. You don’t accomplish those things at one of the most pressure-filled positions in sports without a strong ego to supplement your talent.

The problem is, talent usually fades before ego.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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