Jamming the crease
Habs and Kings goalie glut, new Cap gun, and more
Posted: Friday September 21, 2007 5:20PM; Updated: Thursday September 27, 2007 5:10PM
Having four NHL-ready goaltenders is a nice problem for the Canadiens, but it doesn't bode well for the immediate future of Carey Price. For the second year in a row, Price, the team's top prospect, has been the best player -- not the best goalie, the best player -- in camp, but that won't be enough to spare him a ticket to Hamilton.
Cristobal Huet has been anointed as Montreal's starter, and reasonably so, given what he's proven in this league over the past two seasons. He's further reinforced his claim on the job with a spotless preseason mark and clearly is the best short-term option. But does playing it safe really serve the Habs? As Alexei Kovalev said, this team isn't a Cup contender, and even the diehards recognize they'll be in tough just to make the playoffs in the densely-packed Eastern field. They might be better served by accepting that the future is now.
Jaroslav Halak carried the mail efficiently last season while Huet missed 16 games down the stretch. Teaming him with Price would give the Habs a young, talented and affordable tandem. The booty they could extract in exchange for the 32-year-old Huet from a more advanced club with goaltending issues -- ahem, we're looking at you, Colorado -- would be much more valuable than the couple of wins that inexperience might cost them this season.
Taking a risk like this flies in the face of everything we've seen from GM Bob Gainey, whose inclination will be to send Price to the AHL where he can see a significant amount of action. But armed with this trio, and a serviceable backup option in Yann Danis, you have to think that Gainey will be on the receiving end of a few calls from GMs generously offering to help free up this logjam in the nets. If someone makes a convincing offer, Price might get the chance he deserves.
One of those GMs who could be ringing Gainey is Dean Lombardi of the Kings, who finally gave up on the failed experiment that was Dan Cloutier. The nine-year veteran was put on waivers Friday with an eye toward clearing his salary from the books. No doubt Kings fans are tossing beachballs in celebration. The only surprising aspect of the announcement was that the team waited so long to make it.
Cloutier, who enjoyed a couple of pretty productive seasons with the Canucks, proved to be a disastrous acquisition for Lombardi. It's not just that his numbers (6-14-2, .398 GAA and .86 save percentage) were brutal, or that his contract hit ($3.1 million this year and next) was grossly inflated. It's that his teammates lost faith in his ability to win games for them, making it a shock that he wasn't released along with several other failed Kings netminders earlier this summer.
Although Cloutier's out of the equation, the team's goaltending problems have hardly been solved. Jason Labarbera excelled with the Manchester Monarchs last season, and he looks to be the lead horse. But 19-year-old Jonathan Bernier, who is coming off a strong showing with Team Canada in the Super Series, has been the most efficient of L.A.s options in camp. He stopped 16 of 17 in 29 minutes of play against the Ducks, and 18 of 20 in a half-game against San Jose and he looks capable of competing for the job. Lombardi rarely rushes prospects, but he may give the youngster a shot during the regular season while he considers his options. With copious cap space and a wealth of assets, he has a chance to make an impact move. The possibility of Huet -- a UFA this summer -- returning to his first NHL club can't be ruled out.
A sure sign of the changing times: During the St. Louis-Dallas rookie game on Tuesday, Blues hopeful Hans Benson taunted an opponent by recounting all the fights he'd watched him lose on YouTube.
The Bruins may not be a better team this season, but they promise to be a far more entertaining one. After frustrating fans last season by refusing to drop the gloves, captain Zdeno Chara revealed his pacifist stance was mandated by former coach Dave Lewis. In his first game under new coach Claude Julien, Big Z got into a spirited scrap with Kip Brennan of the Isles. That was just one of four tussles on the evening, a trend that, if it continues, would go further towards filling up the TD Banknorth Garden than a battle for the eighth seed in the East.
Looking for a fantasy hockey sleeper? Keep a close eye on Washington's Viktor Kozlov. A team source said the former Islander is likely to start the season as the Caps' first line center, which means he, rather than Michael Nylander, will have the plum slot alongside Alexander Ovechkin. The two Russians quickly developed chemistry in camp, allowing Nylander to move to the second line where he can ride herd on prize rookie Nicklas Backstrom and the talented, but inconsistent Alex Semin. With 30-goal man Chris Clark in tow, that's a dangerous looking top-six.