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Hawks to let goalie competition play itself out
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/5/2008 12:05 AM

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The Blackhawks formally introduced goaltender Cristobal Huet at a news conference Monday, making it another one of those occasions when everyone smiles for the cameras.

But general manager Dale Tallon couldn't escape the questions regarding Nikolai Khabibulin's status that have been aimed his way ever since July 1, when he surprisingly signed Huet to a four-year contract worth $25.54 million.

Tallon insisted again that Khabibulin and Huet will come to training camp next month and compete for the No. 1 job and the right to start the bulk of the games.

But for the first time, Tallon left the door open just a crack that perhaps a trade of Khabibulin was at least possible if it turns out the 35-year-old veteran shows up at camp and doesn't like the situation.

"If by chance that's not going to work as far as number of games played or not wanting to be here, then we have to look at that," Tallon said.

"We're going to do what's best for our team, period. If it's keeping Khabibulin, we'll do that. If it's not, then we move on and we try to do something that makes sense for both of us. Right now we're sitting right where we need to be. We've got lots of time to make the right moves if we do."

Tallon admitted he hasn't spoken with Khabibulin since signing Huet but that he has talked to the goalie's agent and the conversation went well.

"I would think the first day after the signing he (Khabibulin) was probably taken aback by it, and rightfully so," Tallon said. "No one saw this coming except our staff."

If the Hawks keep Khabibulin they would be covered if the veteran experiences more injuries like those that nagged him last season.

"We look at our injury status the last few years, and you can never be sure if guys are going to finish the season or play a whole season," Tallon said. "We want to make sure we're covered, that we have an opportunity to ice the best team every night and have the best goaltending every night. Winning is the bottom line."

Huet knew he was walking into a goalie controversy when he signed.

"It was an offer that was tough to refuse," Huet said.

Huet was reportedly set to re-sign with Washington for three years at $15 million when the Hawks jumped in with their bigger offer. One thing Huet is guaranteed is he will the No. 1 goalie after this season when Khabibulin's $27 million contract expires.

Huet is looking forward to competing with Khabibulin for playing time if it comes to that.

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

"I'd like to play as much as I can, but I'll have to play well and earn my ice time. There's going to be competition and it's always like than on any NHL team. This year it's going to be a little more than the average team, but we're going to work together and make it happen so we can have some wins."

There have been no promises made to Huet about playing time.

"We told him he's going to battle for a spot," Tallon said. "The competition will raise their level and make us a better team. It's all about winning. It's not about keeping people happy."