Marge Simpson once said to her husband, “Homer, you know how unpredictable the French are. One minute they’re kissing a woman’s hand, the next they’re chopping off her head!” Put another way, one minute you’re offering your starting goaltender and top free agent priority exactly the contract he asked for, the next he’s signing a ridiculous deal with another team. A team, incidentally, seemingly hell-bent on digging itself straight into salary cap, well, hell.
So you’re George McPhee. Cristobal Huet has asked for three years and $15 million. Great, you say, that’s exactly what we’ll offer you. But wait, sayeth the goaltender, let me see what’s out there. Before you know it, there he is working out a four-year deal with the Blackhawks at $5.6 million a season. Such a deal cannot and should not be matched, for any number of reasons. So Huet bolts for Chicago, where he will watch management first fumble around trying to reconcile his contract along with Nikolai Khabibulin’s $6 million plus contract this season, and the sure-to-be high demands of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in two years (just to make things really interesting, Chicago threw 8 years, $57 million, and Brian Campbell into the mix).
What do you do? Panic? Call it a day and stumble into the season with Brent Johnson and one of those prized-but-not-yet-ready goaltending prospects? Johnson and Frederic Cassivi? Johnson and Alex Auld??? No, no. You sit back and calmly repeat the DCO mantra, recently invoked by Ernie Grunfeld: Relax. Everything’s going to be fine.
Not missing a beat, GMGM snaps up Jose Theodore, he of the Hart and Vezina earlier this decade. The terms, two years at $4.5 million per, gain in brilliance every time you stop and think about them. It’s not a bad salary for a starting goaltender, particularly one who is apparently reviving his career like Theodore. It leaves extra money for other desired RFAs and one UFA named Fedorov (and, if you’re to believe the boards, Brooks Orpik). Perhaps best of all, it expires in two years, being the perfect timespan for that goaltending “bridge”, plus freeing up needed millions for a potentially big-time contract to Nick Backstrom, amongst others. At that time, we can thank Jose for his services and move on. Or perhaps offer him a nice veteran/mentor backup role at reduced cost (Hi, Olie). Chicago, meanwhile, will be doing its own version of the Pittsburgh conundrum Malkin vs. Hossa, entitled Kane vs. Toews.
Fan reaction was a bit shocking, with message boards reading like something out of the “Redskins About to Hire Jim Fassel” days. Sure, Huet was great and we’ll always have fond memories of nine-game winning streaks and a division title, but here was not a player to have at all costs. There apparently was a Plan B, and a suitable one. It might be (past) time to cut McPhee some slack, after his brilliant engineering last offseason and at the trade deadline brought the Caps one penalty-free OT from the second round. And at least he’s not acting like they are in Vancouver, offering up $10 million a season for an aging someone who didn’t crack 80 points last season.
So it’s not so bad. A key component of the young core was signed yesterday, and the first choice of goalie walked away after being offered precisely what he wanted with no hesitation. Time to move on. Huet is dead. Long live Jose.