MONTREAL - Exactly two years to the day he was acquired by Bob Gainey from the L.A. Kings, Cristobal Huet renewed his vows with the Canadiens by signing a two-year contract.
Since emerging from obscurity to wrestle the No. 1 job away from Jose Theodore on his way to leading the Canadiens to the playoffs, Huet's impending unrestricted free agent status had understandably landed his file on top of Gainey's to-do list. With the onset of free agency less than one week away and teams league-wide likely licking their chops to make Huet a contract offer, Gainey put an end to speculation concerning other possible suitors for his No.1 goalie by inking Huet to a multi-year deal.
"There are a group of teams in the NHL today who have to take out their black marker and scratch Cristobal Huet's name off their list," said Gainey on a joint conference call from Vancouver along with Huet, who phoned in from his home in Grenoble, France.
"We began early in the month of June to speak with players who were still under contract to us and with whom we had unique negotiating rights and Cristobal was one of them," explained Gainey. "We are happy to have Cristobal signed and with our team for the next two years. We had a very good start to our relationship last year and we believe that it can continue and grow.
Simply the Best
By leading the NHL in save percentage, Huet earned the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award.
|2006 ||Cristobal Huet ||MTL ||.929 |
|2004 ||Dwayne Roloson ||MIN ||.933 |
|2003 ||Marty Turco ||DAL ||.932 |
|2002 ||Jose Theodore ||MTL ||.931 |
|2001 ||Marty Turco ||DAL ||.925 |
|2000 ||Ed Belfour ||DAL ||.919 |
"I think both parties had a desire to get this settled and we were able to reach an agreement on term and dollars that I think both parties are comfortable with."
Thanks to Huet's immediate impact and subsequent love affair with the city and fans alike, Gainey found himself with a willing dance partner in the goalie, as negotiations went very smoothly, requiring no arm twisting to get a deal done.
"I never hid the fact that staying in Montreal was a priority," said Huet. "From the moment they showed an interest, I didn't really have any other reason to test the market.
"I couldn't be happier about coming back to Montreal," added the 30-year-old netminder. "The fact that the team showed so much confidence in me was a big part of my decision. I think we've got a really good team here that's only going to get better, which was also a deciding factor in me wanting to stay."
Huet's breakthrough season spoke for itself, as did his calm under fire once he found himself in the middle of a heated battle for a playoff spot. Each of his eye-popping statistics from his NHL-leading save percentage (.929) and sparkling goals against average (2.20), to his torrid stretch that saw him rack up seven shutouts over a 20-game stretch are all the more impressive having occurred in the pressure cooker that is Montreal.
"It's definitely special to play here," admitted Huet, whose hockey travels have taken him from his hometown of Grenoble, France, to Switzerland, Los Angeles and Germany before finally settling into his stall at the Bell Centre. "The fans are so connected to the team and take their hockey so seriously that it isn't like playing anywhere else. The expectations are high and we as players know that and do all we can to give everything we have to live up to those expectations."
June 6-12, 2006
Do you think Cristobal Huet will end up signing with the Canadiens?
|Yes ||86% |
|No ||7% |
|Not sure ||7% |
|TOTAL VOTES ||5,822 |
While the rest of the NHL sat wondering whether Montreal's No. 39 would be among the handful of goalies available as of July 1, along with Dominik Hasek and Oilers playoff sensation Dwayne Roloson, Canadiens fans had complete confidence in Gainey finding a way to lure Huet back. According to a recent Canadiens.com poll, nearly 90 per cent of 5,822 respondents believed that Huet was going to remain in Montreal.
In an unprecedented show of appreciation for their new-found hero, fans at the Bell Centre went as far as to cheer the netminder shortly after Cory Stillman's overtime goal ended the Canadiens' season, before filling the arena with deafening chants of Huet's name.
That outpouring of affection, which became a nightly occurrence for Huet this past season, was no doubt a major reason why he signed on the dotted line of a contract that has Canadiens fans' fingerprints all over it.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com