From Nick Parsons
Credit given where credit due - Bob Gainey was mostly right and the rest of us, including me, mostly wrong.
At the National Hockey League's February 26th trade deadline Gainey made the strangest deal of the day - packing starting goaltender Cristobal Huet off to the Washington Capitals. Coming the other way was nothing more than a draft pick, and a second rounder at that.
The verdict was delivered at full volume before poor old Cristobal had properly said his good-byes to Alex Kovalev and the boys. Dumb move; not enough for Huet; new starter Carey Price too young; kid will collapse from the pressure.
Straight-laced, low-keyed Bob Gainey, the man with the legendary self-control had lost it and indulged himself with a moment of madness.
Gainey traded for Huet just before the lockout in 2004. Huet had come out of nowhere for the Los Angeles Kings during the 03-04 season. Then in 05-06 he played former star Jose Theodore off the team. Huet was acrobatic in the nets in a Curtis Joseph sort of way. He could look spectacular stopping routine shots and then fail to make a big save to keep his team in a game. He was an above average goaltender who didn't play enough. After three seasons in the league he had only 119 games. Working against him was his age - he turned 32 in September.
Gainey's assessment that Huet was unlikely to improve much beyond his current level is probably a good call.
What caught observers by surprise was the small return. The Washington Capitals have been goaltender starved for years. They have Alex Ovechkin, a roster of willing but unremarkable players, and a black hole where a goalkeeper usually stands. Olaf Kolzig has been the Capital's goalie for years but his game disappeared two-three years ago. You would think Gainey could have pried more out of Washington but apparently not.
Gainey was also criticized for taking this gamble and two others - one of which was possibly de-stabilizing his own team by having their fortunes tied to a 20-year-old rookie goalie who spent the month of January in the minors. The Canadiens missed the playoffs last season but were playing well at the trade deadline and looked strong enough to earn possibly the fourth seed. Tampering with team's make-up didn't seem wise.
Then there was the risk of ruining the rookie flash - Carey Price. He'd been a great junior and won in the AHL too but he'd never shouldered the load in the NHL. It seemed the pieces for a jolly old disaster were falling into place when Huet went over to Washington and wowed them.
But the disaster was put on hold because Price turned in one great performance after another, the Canadiens surged up the standings and for a time sat atop the Eastern Conference. Price had been operating at a 915 save percentage prior to Huet's departure, which had to be considered good for a rookie. After his promotion Price won nine of 12 games, stopping 384 of 414 shots for a 927 save percentage. That figure over a season would likely win him the Vezina.
His workload has been high. Those 414 shots in 12 games works out to about 34 per game. The league average is a bit over 28.5 - since February 26th he's had two games with 39 shots, two of 38, and one of 37. With three games remaining the Canadiens are one point out of first place. Price has been everything they could have wished for.
So, hats off to Bob Gainey, one of the game's nice guys. He knew things none of the rest of us did. He reached a conclusion and made a gutsy move. It will be a few years before the last element of the trade, that much maligned second round pick, surfaces in the NHL and is scrutinized.
Wouldn't it be just perfect if that draft pick turns out to be a Hall of Famer.