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Huet Relishes Competition With Khabibulin

by Dan Rosen / Chicago Blackhawks

New Blackhawks goaltender Cristobal Huet is looking forward to

competing with Nikolai Khabibulin for the top spot in Chicago. 
Cristobal Huet video highlights with MTL & WSH
Cristobal Huet knew the goaltending situation in Chicago included incumbent starter Nikolai Khabibulin returning for the final year of his contract. It didn’t stop him from signing his own contract with the club.

Monday, at his introductory press conference, he called it an offer he simply could not refuse.

“To play, you have to play well, you have to deserve your ice time,” Huet said. “You’re going to get what you deserve.”

Huet, who backstopped the Washington Capitals to the Southeast Division title last season after being traded there from Montreal at the trade deadline, signed a four-year, multi-million dollar contract with the Blackhawks on July 1 knowing he would have to compete to be the team’s No. 1 goalie.

While it’s rare for a team that already has a No. 1 goalie under contract to make such a bold offer to another clear-cut No. 1 goalie on the free-agent market, it’s also rare for the free agent to sign knowing playing time was not part of the guarantee.

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Huet is apparently a different breed.

He believes the competition for playing time with Khabibulin will help both him and the Blackhawks. And, just for the record, Chicago General Manager Dale Tallon has stated his intention is to go into the season with both goalies on the roster despite rumors that Khabibulin is remains on the trading block.

“It’s going to be great for the team,” Huet said. “Definitely we’re going to push each other to play and to compete. It’s going to benefit the team, so I look at it as a good thing for the organization.”

Tallon said his decision to offer Huet a large contract was based solely on what’s best for the organization.

“It’s all about winning,” he said. “It’s not about making people happy.”

Tallon admitted that he hasn’t yet had a chance to speak with Khabibulin about the new situation in Chicago’s net because, “he’s in Belarus, and it’s hard to get a hold of him there.”

The Hawks’ GM did speak with Khabibulin’s agent July 2 and said the two had a “great conversation.”

Corey Crawford, a former No. 1 pick who has played the last three seasons with the Hawks’ top AHL affiliate, also signed a one-year contract.

“The signing of Cristobal gives us depth for a long time and keeps some continuity,” Tallon said. “The No. 1 thing to win is you need great goaltending. If you don’t have that, you’re going to have to score six goals a game to win and that’s not going to happen often, even with our young team.”

Huet comes to Chicago after playing the best hockey of his career for the Capitals.

Olaf Kolzig was still the man in D.C. at the deadline, but Huet was brought in anyway to bolster the Caps as they pushed for an unlikely division title. Huet played so well that he wrestled the No. 1 job away from Kolzig, who held it for nearly a decade.

Huet went 11-2 with a 1.69 goals-against average and .936 save percentage as the Capitals rode their hot goalie and the goal scoring of eventual Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin to the Southeast Division title. He went 3-4 with a 2.93 GAA and .909 save percentage in a tough but memorable seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.

Once July 1 rolled around, the thought was that the Capitals had the inside track to re-signing Huet to a long-term deal; but the free agency season was barely under way before the Blackhawks swooped in and, as Huet said, “were very aggressive.”

"It was a great opportunity to come to this organization,” Huet said. “The challenge is great, and that was an offer that was tough to refuse." -- Cristobal Huet
“It was a great opportunity to come to this organization,” Huet said. “The challenge is great, and that was an offer that was tough to refuse.”

Huet’s press conference Monday likely concludes one of the busiest and most exciting summers in team history. Chicago was awarded the 2009 NHL Winter Classic game, which will be played New Years Day at Wrigley Field against the Detroit Red Wings. The team also hosted the wildly successful First Annual Chicago Blackhawks Convention in July.

Chicago is also now home to defenseman Brian Campbell, the top defenseman among 2008’s class of unrestricted free agents, and Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who was recently hired as the team’s Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations.

Second-year forward Jonathan Toews was named the Blackhawks’ 34th captain in team history. Patrick Kane won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. And, on the coaching front, Mike Haviland was promoted to be Denis Savard’s assistant after serving as the head coach of the team’s AHL affiliate for the past three seasons. Bill Peters, who coached the Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup championship last season, was tabbed as Haviland’s replacement for the Rockford IceHogs.

“The way they played last year was a good sign of where this team is going and where it’s going to be within a year or two years,” Huet said. “I signed a four-year deal, so I’m very happy to be in Chicago and I’m here to stay, definitely.”

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