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Thursday, October 21, 2010
Cristobal Huet: I'd rather be in NHL

By Pierre LeBrun

There are members of last season's Stanley Cup champions sprinkled all over the NHL, namely in Atlanta, San Jose and Toronto, but there's also one in Switzerland.

Cristobal Huet, part of the Chicago Blackhawks' salary-cap purge, has adjusted to life back in the Swiss League, where he played eight years ago before making the jump to the NHL.

"Things are not bad," Huet told ESPN.com on Thursday over the phone from Switzerland where he's now playing goal for Fribourg-Gottéron in an arena that holds 7,000 people.

If you know Huet, you know he'd say that even if he was in the middle of an earthquake. He's not a complainer. He took his demotion without rocking the ship last season when Antti Niemi replaced him as starter for the Hawks. And he then accepted his move across the ocean this past summer when the Blackhawks, as widely expected, dumped his $5.625 million salary.

That was a tough blow to his pride.

"It was hard this summer," said Huet, whose salary is still mostly paid by the Hawks. "But that's something I dealt with then. I'm trying to make the most out of my situation now. I enjoy playing hockey here. We have some great guys and some great fans. I'm just trying to enjoy the game."

Somehow Huet just never fit in Chicago. After establishing himself as a solid starting netminder in Montreal, including a posting a .929 save percentage with the Habs in 2005-06, he never really got going in the Windy City after signing a four-year, $22.5 million deal in the summer of 2008.

"It probably wasn't my best years in Chicago," said the 35-year-old Huet. "It's good for me to play more now and feel good about myself."

The irony isn't lost on anyone; the man who bumped Huet out of the Hawks' net is no longer there, either, as Niemi went to San Jose after Chicago walked away from his salary arbitration award.

"They were in a tough situation, everyone knows that," Huet said of the Hawks. "They had to trade players and make moves they probably didn't want to make, and Antti was one of those guys."

I asked Huet if, looking back, he thought he got a fair shake in Chicago.

"It's hard to say," he said. "We won [the Cup], so the coaching staff and management did a great job. I was on the wrong side of it, on the personal end, but still it was a great experience to win in Chicago. It doesn't change the way I feel about myself."

He believes he still has the game to be an NHL goalie. But since the Hawks are still on the hook for another year next season at $5.625 million, he's likely stuck in Europe until the team buys him out.

"I don't know what Chicago's intentions are for next year," said Huet, who went 26-14-8 with a 2.50 GAA last season in Chicago. "I'll probably be in the same situation with my salary and not playing in the NHL. It's really not up to me, but we'll see what happens next year."

For now, he's making the best of being back in Switzerland, where he tended goal for four seasons before heading to Los Angeles in 2002. While he's a native of France, Huet married a Swiss woman, so the move made sense on the personal side of things. He also obtained his Swiss passport earlier this week.

"That's important for our team because we can only use four imports per team," explained Huet. "That makes a big difference if you can have good imports."

The shorter schedule also makes it less of a grind.

"Well, I'm home every night and sleeping in my bed," he said. "That's the good part of it. But at the same time, I'd rather be playing in the NHL."

No Russia for Gretzky

Reports surfaced overnight out of Russia that SKA St. Petersburg, which fired its coach this week, was hoping to lure Wayne Gretzky behind its bench. Forget about it. While The Great One is indeed friends with SKA chairman and KHL president Alexander Medvedev, Gretzky told ESPN.com via text message late Wednesday night there was no chance of him coaching in Russia.