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RCC Spotlight: Theodore for Aebischer trade
by Readers Columnist Corner (NHL)
Posted on March 15, 2006, 8:34 PM

As somebody with a Jose Theodore jersey currently hanging in their closet can probably tell you best, it was an absolute inevitability that the former Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender, now property of the Colorado Avalanche, would be moved at the March 9th trade deadline. What is less inevitable is the effect that the deal will have on both teams.

The trade was as straightforward as a transaction can be in the salary-cap based National Hockey League. It was a single player for single player deal, two teams swapping their first-string goaltenders, with Montreal acquiring Colorado’s David Aebischer in exchange for Theodore.

Breaking it down in terms of this season, and this season only, it was an absolute steal for the Canadiens. First and foremost, Theodore is injured, and will be until the final two games of the regular season. Colorado is currently in a very tight playoff race, needing to finish at least 8th in a conference in which only 11 standings points separate 3rd and 11th place. Theoretically, the Avalanche, now playing without a proven #1 goalie, could fall out of playoff contention before Jose ever laces a pair of skates. Theodore also has a goals against rating of 3.41, and a save percentage of .881 in 38 games this year. David Aebischer has a goals against of 2.98 and a save percentage of .900 in 43 games this year. Essentially, this adds up to Theodore being less (substantially less) productive, while playing in fewer games than his counterpart. Finally, there’s the matter of Theodore’s fall from grace in Montreal. In fact, simply labelling it a “fall” is somewhat misleading. Theodore absolutely plunged from grace this season, taking the love affair that, after his MVP season, had grown between he and the city of Montreal with it. This year, Jose has been subject to a snub from the Canadian Olympic team, the loss of his starting job to the upstart French goaltender Cristobal Huet, the on again-off again emergence of his family’s loansharking charges, and a positive test for performance enhancing drugs (the positive test has since been attributed to the use of a hair restoration product, though the product itself is a masking agent for the drug Nandrolone, which effectively maintains the relevance of the news). All of this, while playing in what arguably could be the NHL’s most frenzied media market. Theodore absolutely had to go. Montreal general manager Bob Gainey recognized this, and moved the goaltender before his stock dropped so much that no team would want to take him.

In terms of the future, it can again be argued that the trade plays into Montreal’s favour. Aebischer is younger than Theodore, by two years, which admittedly, when the players are 27 years old and 29 years old respectively means nothing, but begins to matter when the difference is 33 to 35, or (with the grace of god lending to the possibility they play that long) even 38 to 40. David Aebischer is also cheaper than Theodore. Montreal not only traded for a proven goalie, but by moving Theodore straight up, they were given in effect a free 3 million dollars to spend under the salary cap. Plus, Theodore has yet to prove that he can perform in an NHL in which goaltenders are forced to wear equipment that is restricted in its size, and literally, its overall effectiveness. Is it a coincidence that Jose’s numbers have shrunk as the size of his trapper has, or the width of his leg pads? Relatively speaking, would Willie Mays have been the fielder that he was were he catching balls in centre field with his son’s glove on? Some players have been able to adjust to the changes, and have continued to play the way they had in seasons past (such as Miikka Kiprusoff and Dominik Hasek). Some players took longer to get used to the equipment, but have ultimately gotten it, and are now playing at the high level they are accustomed to (players like Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov). Some players have not been able to make the change, and have suffered greatly because of it (most notably, Ed Belfour). 38 games into this season, it is safe to say that Theodore is definitely not a Kiprusoff, and that he looks to be closer to a Belfour than a Brodeur.

But this is where the gamble lies for the Colorado Avalanche. Pierre Lacroix, the team’s general manager, is known for his trade deadline deals. More specifically, he is known for his always-effective trade deadline deals. Ray Bourque came to Colorado at the trade deadline, and a season later, he was a Stanley Cup champion for the first time in his 21 year career. Patrick Roy came to the Colorado franchise (then the Quebec Nordiques) at the deadline, and a year later, he was holding a Stanley Cup as well.

If the gamble turns out to be a successful one, this trade could very well solidify a spot for Lacroix in the hall of fame. And the beautiful part for Colorado Avalanche fans is that the trade is really not as huge a gamble as it may seem. Fans tend to forget that Montreal did start the season on top of the league. A possible reason for Theodore’s sudden and steep drop in production could be that the Canadiens were basically ready to plan the Stanley Cup parade in November, feeling like they would ride the wave of momentum to a top seed in the Eastern Conference. The pressure on Theodore was immense, and perhaps he just cracked. It is entirely plausible that Theodore could gain intense motivation to disprove his critics in Montreal, the people who once had such faith in his abilities, after being cast aside by the very team that he grew up idolizing as a French-Canadian teenager.

While we’re considering plausible scenarios, here’s another. What if current Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet stays as hot as he is right now (and make no mistake, Huet is as hot as any player in the NHL, and any player professional hockey has seen in the last few years not named Brian Boucher). Montreal could not rightly take out Huet to put in Aebischer simply to justify trading for him. It is not absurd to imagine that Huet could become a number 1 goaltender, and should that happen, Montreal will have traded a player who was once considered the league’s most valuable for a glorified (and more expensive) backup goaltender.

Either way, one cannot argue that Jose Theodore was doing nothing to help the Canadiens from the press box, and it is extremely difficult to fathom that Theodore could have regained his form in the environment he was surrounded by. Montreal’s hands were tied, and they basically had to make some sort of move to give themselves a sence of insurance and security between the pipes. Conversely, Pierre Lacroix, without ever actually saying it, made it perfectly clear that he had no faith in Aebischer’s ability to bring the Stanley Cup back to the Mile High City, and that he’d rather take a risk on somebody else than ride it out with his current goalie.

Ultimately, only time will tell how the trade works out for the Avalanche and the Canadiens. Maybe it will blow up in the faces of everybody involved, maybe it will help both teams they way they hope it will. At the very least, the trading of Jose Theodore to the Colorado Avalanche does somebody a service – it turns my jersey into a throwback, thereby making it cooler.

For the Sports Oratory, I’m Matt Ederer .

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