It's that time! With the Hawks returning to camp at the weekend, we get ramped up and ready to go here on the site full time. The three of us spent some time figuring out how we want to preview the season, and we decided that only mere weeks after doing a player-by-player review of last season, the same method for a preview wouldn't work (if you want one, The Fifth Feather is doing an excellent job of one). Also, we're too lazy and non-sober to get through it again, being unemployed and dumb. So, we've decided that each day until the season starts, one of us will tackle a question facing the Hawks this season . They may have to do with a specific player, or who plays with who, or coaching, or games, or whatever. We think this is a little more free form and gives us a less rigid way to talk about the upcoming season. So today is...
Can The Hawks Win A Cup With Cristobal Huet?
Ah, Cristobal, everyone's favorite punching bag, and yet another demonstration of how Chicago fans hate anyone with a large paycheck. Huet is going to get his share of scrutiny, and there will be many theories around about how the Hawks will become Flyers West -- team Cup-ready everywhere else but in net, and the crippling that can be.
Personally, I think you can, but let's look a little deeper. Huet's numbers last year -- a SV% of .909 and a GAA of 2.53. This is contrasted by Khabby's SV% of .919 and GAA of 2.33. So worse, but by how much? And what would these numbers mean with 20 more starts for Huet? Well, at 20 more starts, with an average of 26.5 shots against per game (the average he saw in his 41 starts last year) it would result in about 48 more goals against, whereas Khabby's SV% would allow a little over 42. Somehow, I doubt six goals over 20 games should matter all that much, but it might.
But there's more to look at. According to Behind The Net, Huet faced the second most difficult shots against in the league, only behind King Henrik on Broadway (more on why this may be later). His expected GAA was supposed to be 2.57, and expected SV% .895, both of which he outperformed. So however you look at it, Huet would be a plus-goalie, just how much is open to debate.
Ah, but this isn't baseball, and you can't rely totally on numbers. There is an eye test, one which Huet's results in have made us all nervous. There are rebounds galore (probably resulting in the high danger levels in the shots he sees) and there are times when his positioning can be woeful. However, Huet is a far different style than we are used to seeing. Whereas Khabby was a high-wire act reliant on reflexes and athleticism, Huet is all positioning and anticipation. When he's slightly off, it can be way off. However, with him now expected to get the bulk of starts, the Hawks defense knows what they're getting, and will probably cheat more to the middle to deal with rebounds more often.
But how many starts should he get? Huet has never carried a full load (tee hee), and 60 starts should be the absolute max he gets to. During various Khabby injuries, Huet was great for 3 or 4 games in a row, tops, and then would fall apart in games 5 and 6 in a row. Doesn't inspire confidence, but whoever wins the backup job must prove they can handle starting one out of every three games.
Ah, but the big question, can he win in the playoffs? Well, the Hawks were in the Conference finals with what statistically was the worst goalie in the playoffs. Khabby's numbers were a GAA of 2.93 and a SV% of .898, which is just plain bad. So how much better does Huet have to be? What I have seen far too much of is the assumption that because Huet was heroic Game 5, he'll be fine. Only Cub fans base large projections of very small sample sizes (Sam Fuld, Micah Hoffpauir anyone?). There are only 16 playoff appearances to Huet's name, and one or two of those in relief.
So to answer? I think so. Gone are the days when your goalie has to drag you across the finish line. These days, your goalie just needs to make a big save when he has to, and outside a period here or there, Khabibulin most certainly didn't. Huet will one or two games by himself come April, and he'll probably lose one. But assuming natural growth from the rest of the roster, and improved playoff performances from everyone, Huet is more than capable of slightly improving on Khabby's playoff numbers to start a parade.