Is Now the Time for the Blackhawks to Trade Cristobal Huet?

Cristobal Huet's mask, ranked by fans as one of the best in the NHL.

Things are going pretty well for the Chicago Blackhawks right now. They’re in first place in the Central Division, and are in strong position to go after the top seed in the Western Conference. After consecutive shut outs, their defense is at the top of the NHL and their goalies look pretty good. Meanwhile, adding Marian Hossa to the offense looks to be coming together.

So is now the right time to make a dramatic change?

Cristobal Huet currently ranks fourth in the NHL, allowing only 2.09 goals per game. Since his rocky start, Huet has settled down to be one of the better goaltenders in the league. The Blackhawks coaching staff has been working with him, specifically to keep Huet up longer and encourage him to get out of the net and attack the puck better. The hard work has paid off, and is paying dividends in the standings.

But if you look deeper into the numbers, there are reasons to move Huet now.

Huet might be fourth in goals against, but his .913 save percentage is good for only 20th in the NHL. Doing math backwards from the contrasting ranks he has in goals against and save percentage, obviously there’s something helping Huet rank highly in one while being middle-of-the-pack in the other.

¬†It’s called elite defense in front of him.

The men on the Hawks blue line continue to block a ton of shots as well. On Wednesday night against St. Louis, the Hawks were credited with 13 blocked shots while only 27 pucks made their way to Huet. Though Huet certainly earned the shutout, when almost one-third of the shots being put on net never make it to the goaltender it makes the man in the mask’s job significantly easier.

Wednesday night’s numbers were consistent with the Blackhawks’ defense all season. The Hawks’ are blocking an average of 13.5 shots per night, while only allowing 24.3 shots on goal per game, the best in the NHL by 2.5 shots over New Jersey. They aren’t the top shot blocking team in the league (they rank 14th), but their backcheck has been one of the best in the league all season on top of their willingness to block shots.

Another way the Hawks are making their goalies look good is by controlling the puck. The Blackhawks rank third in the NHL in faceoff winning, earning possession 53.6 percent of the time despite their second line center, Dave Bolland, having been out for over a month. The Hawks are also third in the NHL on PK, killing 85.2 percent of opponents’ power plays.

What do all of these numbers mean? The Blackhawks are playing defense in front of the net better than any team in the league, and are making Huet look like a goalie worthy of his $5.6 million salary. But reality is that many goalies, most of which cost far less than Huet, could look good behind this Blackhawks team.

Let’s add to this discussion the reality that the Blackhawks need to make some payroll disappear before the 2010-11 season begins. The Hawks will likely have to cut around $9 million off their existing payroll to afford a complete roster next year. If deals have to happen, why not sell a player when his value is at it’s all-time high? That’s the case with Huet.

But to simply argue that the Blackhawks could move Huet to save money by selling high is an empty argument if there isn’t a team that would have interest in acquiring his services and can handle his salary, while probably sending a veteran¬†goalie back to keep the Blackhawks from being forced to rely on Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford through a push for the Stanley Cup.

LeclaireThere might be a match out there for the Hawks, and it’s with a team with whom the Hawks have been linked in trade rumors before.

The Ottawa Senators are struggling, to put it mildly, and a big part of their issues is in net. The Sens are scoring almost as many goals per game (2.85) as the Blackhawks (2.97), but are allowing almost a full goal per game (2.91) more than the Hawks (2.09). Not all of the goals against can be pinned on their pair of netminders, though. Both Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliot are stopping over 90 percent of the shots they’re facing, but the tandem is facing 3.8 shots per game more than the Hawks are allowing.

Elliot has started more games this year for the Sens, which puts the significantly more expensive Leclaire on the bench. Considering Leclaire makes almost $3 million more than Elliot, the Sens would likely prefer to have their most expensive goaltender be worthy of the most starts.

Enter Huet. When you look at the differences between Leclaire and Huet, they aren’t as dramatic as you would think based on their records. Huet is stopping .913 of the shots he faces, while Leclaire is killing .901 of his opportunities. If you swap Leclaire, already a backup, for Huet, the difference in net could be marginal.

But the difference long-term could be enormous. Leclaire has a cap number of just $3.6 million, with a deal that expires after next year. Huet, on the other hand, will make $5.625 million through the 2011-12 season. Saving that $2 million, and the extra season, could mean the difference between the Blackhawks keeping a player like Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg around this coming summer, and considering that Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson are due new contracts after next season, getting Huet’s money off the books in a deal like this would be perfect if the Hawks wanted to sign these two key blue liners long term in the summer of 2011.

Also consider that, until this year, Leclaire played all five of his NHL seasons in the Central as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Sens have less money locked up after this year, so they could more easily afford Huet’s salary than the Hawks, and Elliot is only signed through next season as well. The Hawks might have to send some cash to Ottawa if this was a deal the teams actually considered because the Sens are just as close to the current cap as the Blackhawks are, but the benefit would be after the 2009-10 season for Chicago if a deal like this went down.

Whether or not it’s to Ottawa or anywhere else, a deeper look at the numbers might make Huet expendable before the end of this season, and selling when his value is at its highest could be a wise move for the Hawks.

Hawks

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5 Responses to Is Now the Time for the Blackhawks to Trade Cristobal Huet?

  1. Chris says:

    Fantastic thought! I greatly respect your angle on Huet and the salary cap. I’m tired of pure talent arguments that overlook the realities of a salary cap. Just don’t let Ottawa read this

  2. TOM COTNER says:

    TABBER—————
    THERE IS A STORY ON TODAYS THN THAT THE FLYERS MIGHT BE GOALIE SHOPPING AGAIN. ( I MEAN WHAT’S NEW ) SOON, IF NOT ALREADY, THEY WILL REALIZE THAT BY SELECTING MICHAEL LEIGHTON OFF WAIVERS, THE CHEAP ALWAYS HAS A WAY OF COMING OUT EXPENSIVE. SO I POSTED A THOUGHT THAT IF THERE IS ANY TRUTH THAT THE HAWKS ARE CONSIDERING A TRADE OF HUET, RIGHT NOW MIGHT BE THE BEST TIME, SINCE HIS VALUE HAS SKYROCKETED SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON. I THOUGHT A WIN / WIN DEAL MIGHT BE FOR THE HAWKS TO SEND HUET, BRENT SOPEL, AND TOMAS KOPECKY TO PHILLY FOR JEFF CARTER, UNDER THE GUISE THAT YOU GOTTA TRADE A DECENT COMMODITY TO GET ONE. I GOTTA BELIEVE THAT THE SALARIES ARE COMPATABLE. WE WOULD NEED TO PLAY COREY CRAWFORD AS NIEMI’S BACKUP UNTIL WE LOCATED A YOUNG VETERAN GOALIE FROM A TEAM OUT OF CONTENTION WITH AN ECONOMICAL SALARY. YOU HINTED AT A POSSIBLE TRADE WITH OTTAWA, BUT I WOULDN’T BE THE LEAST BIT INTERESTED IN LECLAIRE OR ELLIOT, AS THAT WOULD BE ABOUT 5 STEPS BACKWARD !! LEMME KNOW YER THOUGHTS. REG TOM

  3. Tab Bamford says:

    Tom, thanks for the comment. A lot to think about…

    First, with regard to your proposed Chi-Phi deal that would send Kopecky-Sopel-Huet to PHI for Jeff Carter, the money’s WAY off. The cap numbers for the players are Huet ($5.625), Kopecky ($1.2) and Sopel ($2.333) for Carter ($5). While inloading roughly $4M would be ideal, the Hawks would need to replace Huet; there’s no way I would move Huet without receiving a goalie in return.

    That being said, if the Flyers included Emery/Boucher, the Hawks would still be saving a good deal of money and moving some salary off the books. However, I think the Flyers would be taking two mediocre, 3rd-4th line players in Kopecky & Sopel for a 2nd line center in Carter who’s also only 24 years old.

    Crawford’s an intriguing name, though, because he’s been in the system for so long that the performances of Niemi this year might have cemented his spot in Rockford. He might be a nice trade piece as we move toward the deadline.

  4. Eric says:

    Do you not realize that Leclaire has been out a month and that Elliott started (I believe) 14 games in a row? Leclaire is Ottawa’s number 1 by far and probably a better player than Huet (and as you point out, cheaper). No way the Sens would be interested in Huet and since they just made their “splash” by acquiring Leclaire as a #1 this year, they certainly aren’t shopping for a different goalie after he’s played only 16 games.

  5. mooyootoo says:

    I agree that Huet and Leclaire are similar as far as talent. The situation in Ottawa isn’t that Leclaire has been benched though, but that he broke a cheek bone while sitting on the bench…that still blows my mind. The cap numbers don’t add up though – the Senators are very tight against the salary cap, with I think $1.5mil wiggle room, so if the for some reason wanted to pay more for a goaltender with similar talents, they’d also have to move salary. I don’t think the Hawks are in a position to take on salary either, without going the waiver route, so I have to think this proposal is a bit of a pipe dream.

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