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McKenzie: Irony in Chicago

TSN.ca Talent Blog
11/19/2008 9:51:50 AM
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Oh, the irony.

The Chicago Blackhawks, according to multiple NHL sources, have a standing deal ready to go at a moment's notice to acquire veteran center Michael Nylander from the Washington Capitals.

The only hitch is that in order to make the transaction, the Blackhawks need to free up considerable cap space and conventional wisdom is the only way they can do that is trade netminder Nikolai Khabibulin.

Just one problem, though. Khabibulin is playing much better than Cristobal Huet, the free agent acquisition who was supposed to be the Hawks' No. 1 goaltender this season. On the surface, it doesn't seem possible that the Hawks could trade Khabibulin right now, but the sense that is precisely what will happen because the Blackhawks feel the strong need to bolster the centre position.

The irony, of course, is that Huet was the Capitals' goaltender and when Washington refused to pay him what he wanted in free agency, the Hawks swooped in and gave Huet a four-year, $22.5-million deal that doesn't look as good now as it did in the summer, when the Hawks were coming off a season where Khabibulin was a gross underachiever. Washington then had to go out and make a deal with Jose Theodore, who at times this season has been outplayed by backup Brent Johnson. Now, the Blackhawks having that glut of goalie salaries is apparently what is preventing them from getting Nylander from the Capitals.

Nylander, who has two more years after this one with an annual cap hit of $4.875, has become expendable in Washington because of the emergence of the young talent that includes Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann, amongst others. It's difficult, if not impossible, to get Nylander any quality power play time and the Caps are paying him far too much to have him as a spectator on the PP.

So the deal with Chicago is certainly a good fit, but it can't happen until the Huet-Khabibulin logjam sorts itself out.

It's difficult to imagine there is a market right now for Huet. He's not playing as well as he has at times in his NHL career with Montreal and Washington. Khabibulin is, in spite of his $6.75 cap hit, a much more marketable commodity although it's not as if goaltenders are a hot commodity in the NHL right now.

Who actually needs one?

Perhaps the New Jersey Devils, although they're trying to ride Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes right now.

Peter Budaj has run hot (a little bit) and cold (a lot) for Colorado, but the Avs don't look like a group that would make this kind of deal.

Columbus would like more from Pascal Leclaire (when healthy) but rookie Steve Mason has helped out considerably.

Marty Turco's struggles in Dallas this season have been well documented, but no one thinks the Stars are seriously in the market for a change in that area.

Everyone talks about Los Angeles needing a goalie, but Erik Ersberg has been solid and, besides, L.A. is not at that phase in their development that they're going to pay big money to a goalie who, no matter how well he plays, can't get them into the playoffs.

Alex Auld has been good in Ottawa so the Sens, for a change, aren't crying the blues about their goaltending situation.

Marty Biron has run hot and cold in Philly but it's hard to imagine the Flyers finding cap room for Khabibulin when there are other things they would like to do with their roster.

St. Louis's goaltending has been less than stellar but the Blues have a lot tied up in Manny Legace and Chris Mason and need them to play better more than they need to make a big trade.

There just aren't any other teams that come to mind that would beat down the door for a goaltender with Khabibulin's price tag -- $6.75 million this season, the final year of his contract -- yet the rumble is that something is going to happen soon to pave the way for the Nylander trade.

Bob McKenzie

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