Cristobal Huet will battle Nikolai Khabibulin for the starting job in Chicago next season. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Who knew Cristobal Huet was so popular.
Since mentioning him on my list of the top 10 confusing signings of the free agent season, I’ve been bombarded with feedback from fans who now want me drawn and quartered.
I said I don’t rank Huet among the top 10 or 15 goalies in the NHL, an opinion I strongly stand by. It’s not so much a criticism against Huet as it is a reflection of how strong goaltending is in the NHL these days.
Now with Chicago and signed for four years to earn $5.625 million per season, Huet ranks middle-of-the-pack among NHL starters in my opinion. I realize he was among league leaders in save percentage this past season and I’m a huge believer in the save percentage stat.
The fact of the matter is if I’m an NHL GM and I’m starting up a team and I have one year to win a championship, Huet is not among the top 10 goalies I’d pick to be my starter.
Here are 10 goalies I wouldn’t hesitate picking before Huet: Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Miikka Kiprusoff, Evgeni Nabokov, Henrik Lundqvist, J-S Giguere, Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryzgalov, Tomas Vokoun and Marty Turco.
I’d probably even pick some of this next tier of goalies before Huet: Niklas Backstrom, Vesa Toskala, Marc-Andre Fleury, Rick DiPietro, Tim Thomas, Chris Osgood, Carey Price, Cam Ward, Martin Biron and Kari Lehtonen. That’s why Huet may not be among my top 15.
There are other good goalies out there as well: Jose Theodore, Pascal Leclaire, Manny Legace, Nikolai Khabibulin, Manny Fernandez, Mathieu Garon, Jaroslav Halak, Josh Harding, Chris Mason, Dwayne Roloson, Mike Smith, Dan Ellis. It’s a very deep field.
Not including Huet among the top 10 doesn’t conflict with what NHL GMs think, either. Huet finished eighth in Vezina Trophy voting this past season. He wasn’t among the top 10 (and didn’t receive any voting points) in 2005-06 or 2006-07 Vezina voting. The 30 NHL GMs do the voting for the Vezina.
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero made an interesting, carefully worded comment after signing Marc-Andre Fleury to a seven-year $35-million contract.
Shero called Fleury “one of the elite goaltenders of the game.”
At first blush, Shero is embellishing. Fleury is good, has excellent potential, but clearly isn’t one of the top four or five goalies in the NHL right now.
But then when you think about it, there must be thousands of goaltenders worldwide. Far fewer than one percent of all goalies have the ability to play pro hockey. Of that very select group, maybe only one-tenth of them have the ability to play in the NHL.
So yes indeed, Fleury is among the elite goaltenders in the game. So is Andrew Raycroft. So is Patrick Lalime. So are Curtis Sanford and Joey MacDonald. Any goalie who can manage to play in the NHL is truly among the elite.
NO BOTTLE DRIVE
Don’t feel bad for Curtis Joseph having to settle for just $700,000 this coming season as Vesa Toskala’s backup in Toronto.
Joseph has made more than $50 million over the course of his 20-year career and at 41 is the game’s elder statesman between the pipes. CuJo moved ahead of Terry Sawchuk and into fourth place in all-time goaltender victories with 449 in Calgary this past season.
Making the top three in wins won’t happen – Joseph is 35 wins behind Ed Belfour – but CuJo is sure to be a fan favorite again in his twilight season.
Expect Martin Brodeur to pass Patrick Roy in all-time wins (551) sometime in late November. Brodeur has 13 more to go.
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