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Michael Farber
March 20, 2006
Heir France
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March 20, 2006

The Nhl

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Heir France

Riding high on the spectacular play of its French-born goalie, Montreal made a big deadline move and dealt a fan favorite

Cristobal Huet, a butterfly-style goalie by trade, turns into a stand-up goalie by inclination when, after a scintillating save, a few notes of La Marseillaise are piped over the Montreal arena sound system in his honor. The understated play of the French-born Huet (pronounced EW-ay) over the last three months (a 1-0 shutout of the Rangers last Saturday was his fifth in his last 12 starts) enabled general manager and interim coach Bob Gainey to deal one of the most popular Canadiens of the past 25 years, goalie Jos� Th�odore, to Colorado last week for another 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 last Friday.

On the surface the Avalanche's ambitious move-Colorado is assuming the remainder of Th�odore's $4.5 million salary this season and the $11.5 million he is owed through 2007-08-appears to be a repeat of its 1995 steal that transferred a disgruntled Patrick Roy from Montreal to Denver. Roy subsequently led Colorado to Stanley Cups in 1995-96 and 2000-01, but the difference is that Roy was on course to be one of the best at his craft, while Th�odore has been on a victory lap since winning the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2001-02.

With smoldering good looks and swift reflexes Th�odore quickly insinuated himself behind only right wing Guy Lafleur and Roy in the hearts and minds of Canadiens fans. However, his play deteriorated this season (.881 save percentage), and off the ice a thundercloud lingered. Criminal activities by relatives and acquaintances in 2003 and '05 cast him in a poor light. Then last month it was revealed that Th�odore tested positive in pre-Olympic screening for a banned substance that masks the steroid Nandrolone but also is an ingredient in a hair-loss treatment that Th�odore said he was using. ( Th�odore did not make the cut for Team Canada.) Finally, he broke his right heel when he slipped on steps outside his home during the NHL's Olympic break. "It shows you how tough it can be here on a French Canadian superstar," says defenseman Mathieu Dandenault. "One day you're king of the world. Next day you're the butt of all the jokes."

The departure of Th�odore marks the first time since 1966 that Montreal has no French-Canadian goalie in its regular rotation. Instead a genuine Frenchman, from St. Martin D'Heres, will be tested. The 30-year-old Huet was a late bloomer, nudged along in a Swiss camp by goaltending guru Fran�ois Allaire. Huet played for the French national team, starred for four years for Lugano in the Swiss League and eventually was drafted 214th overall by Los Angeles in 2001. The Kings gave him a prolonged look in 2003-04, but he didn't seize the No. 1 job. Montreal picked him up in a June 2004 trade, but Huet didn't make his Canadiens debut until December '05 because of a knee injury sustained during the lockout. His strengths are positioning and an eerie calm, and Montreal is once again the province 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 the Canadiens to seventh in the East. "They show it to a player when they like you and when they don't. I'm just enjoying it now."