Riding high onthe spectacular play of its French-born goalie, Montreal made a big deadlinemove and dealt a fan favorite
Cristobal Huet, abutterfly-style goalie by trade, turns into a stand-up goalie by inclinationwhen, after a scintillating save, a few notes of La Marseillaise are piped overthe Montreal arena sound system in his honor. The understated play of theFrench-born Huet (pronounced EW-ay) over the last three months (a 1-0 shutoutof the Rangers last Saturday was his fifth in his last 12 starts) enabledgeneral manager and interim coach Bob Gainey to deal one of the most popularCanadiens of the past 25 years, goalie José Théodore, to Colorado last week foranother netminder, David Aebischer, who will challenge Huet for the No. 1 job.It was the eye-grabber of the NHL's trade-deadline swapfest, which ended lastFriday.
On the surfacethe Avalanche's ambitious move-Colorado is assuming the remainder of Théodore's$4.5 million salary this season and the $11.5 million he is owed through2007-08-appears to be a repeat of its 1995 steal that transferred a disgruntledPatrick Roy from Montreal to Denver. Roy subsequently led Colorado to StanleyCups in 1995-96 and 2000-01, but the difference is that Roy was on course to beone of the best at his craft, while Théodore has been on a victory lap sincewinning the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2001-02.
With smolderinggood looks and swift reflexes Théodore quickly insinuated himself behind onlyright wing Guy Lafleur and Roy in the hearts and minds of Canadiens fans.However, his play deteriorated this season (.881 save percentage), and off theice a thundercloud lingered. Criminal activities by relatives and acquaintancesin 2003 and '05 cast him in a poor light. Then last month it was revealed thatThéodore tested positive in pre-Olympic screening for a banned substance thatmasks the steroid Nandrolone but also is an ingredient in a hair-loss treatmentthat Théodore said he was using. (Théodore did not make the cut for TeamCanada.) Finally, he broke his right heel when he slipped on steps outside hishome during the NHL's Olympic break. "It shows you how tough it can be hereon a French Canadian superstar," says defenseman Mathieu Dandenault."One day you're king of the world. Next day you're the butt of all thejokes."
The departure ofThéodore marks the first time since 1966 that Montreal has no French-Canadiangoalie in its regular rotation. Instead a genuine Frenchman, from St. MartinD'Heres, will be tested. The 30-year-old Huet was a late bloomer, nudged alongin a Swiss camp by goaltending guru Fran√ßois Allaire. Huet played for theFrench national team, starred for four years for Lugano in the Swiss League andeventually was drafted 214th overall by Los Angeles in 2001. The Kings gave hima prolonged look in 2003-04, but he didn't seize the No. 1 job. Montreal pickedhim up in a June 2004 trade, but Huet didn't make his Canadiens debut untilDecember '05 because of a knee injury sustained during the lockout. Hisstrengths are positioning and an eerie calm, and Montreal is once again theprovince of a hot goalie. "There's a lot of passion here," says Huet,who is second in the league with a .928 save percentage and has backstopped theCanadiens to seventh in the East. "They show it to a player when they likeyou and when they don't. I'm just enjoying it now."