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Gainey trades goalie Huet, falls short in bid for sniper Hossa

MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens felt the price was too high for Marian Hossa.

General manager Bob Gainey failed to land the impact player he sought at the NHL trading deadline on Tuesday, but he did cause a surprise by trading veteran goaltender Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals for a second round pick in the 2009 draft.

Gainey said the last offer he made at midday for Hossa was turned down by Atlanta, while the Thrashers' counter-offer was deemed too steep. He described Atlanta GM Don Waddell's demand as three roster players plus "something else" for the future, likely a first round draft pick.

The Thrashers are believed to have coveted talented winger Christopher Higgins.

"I'm disappointed," said Gainey. "We thought that we were able to put a package together for a team that had an impact player.

"But that team decided to go in a different direction."

At the deadline, Atlanta shipped Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forwards Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-rounder.

That erased the chance for a piece of theatre - Hossa carrying his equipment bag from one dressing room down the hall to another for the game Tuesday night at the Bell centre between Atlanta and Montreal.

The end result is sure to leave Canadiens fans unhappy - losing Huet and not gaining the star player they were expecting.

"Honestly, if we had made the trade Atlanta asked for, I'd be in a bigger problem than I am now," Gainey said with a grin.

He said the Huet trade was unrelated to the bid for Hossa, but rather was a decision by the organization's braintrust to go with two promising young goalies down the stretch - Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak, who was called up from AHL Hamilton along with centre Mikhail Grabovski.

Huet and Price had been splitting duties in goal. Lately, both were struggling.

The goaltender from Grenoble, France, who was popular with Bell Centre fans, is earning US$2.75 million and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. He was clearly not part of the long-term plan in Montreal, which he said never approached him about a contract extension.

Instead, they got what they could for him and turned the job over to two youngsters who may both be potential No. 1 goaltenders in the future but who remain unproven over the long haul in the NHL.

"There is a risk there," Gainey said. "They're not experienced.

"But there's only one net and only so much time to play. We made the same decision last season when we put Price in the net in Hamilton."

Last season, Price led Canada to gold at the world junior championships, then took Hamilton to an AHL title. The 20-year-old made the jump straight to the NHL this season, although he was sent back to the AHL briefly in January for extra work and to rebuild his sagging confidence.

"We definitely believe that our future in goal is with one of these goaltenders, or maybe both in tandem," added Gainey.

The 32-year-old Huet was 21-12-6 with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage this season, but in his last four games, he was 1-3-0 with an ugly 4.50 average and .859 save percentage.

"I expected the unexpected, but when I got the call, I was a little shocked," Huet said. "I had three great years here.

"It's a class organization. I can't say anything bad about them. I'll miss that, but it's time to move on and enjoy a new challenge ."

He said he spoke to Capitals GM George McPhee, but didn't know yet how much playing time he'd see. Fading veteran Olaf Kolzig and Brent Johnson are the current goaltenders in Washington, which was busy on deadline day and has serious playoff aspirations with the rise of scoring sensation Alexander Ovechkin.

A player who may be surprised he is still in Montreal is winger Michael Ryder, a two-time 30-goal scorer who has struggled to find the net this season. He also can be unrestricted this summer and many assumed he would be traded.

But Gainey said the only offers for Ryder in the past two months were "sideways deals" and he preferred to keep him to perhaps include him in a trade for a bigger fish.

Now, he's looking for Ryder to rediscover his scoring touch.

"This has not been an easy year for him, but he's a good player," said Gainey. "He's an excellent offensive player with skills that are not easy to find.

"If we have that on six cylinders instead of eight, then we have to go back and get him working on all cylinders. It's nothing but win-win for Michael. The better he plays, the better for us and the better for him."

Gainey said Washington offered a 2009 draft pick instead of 2008 because they held two second-round picks that year.

He also denied reports that he had asked to discuss a long-term contract with Hossa, who is unrestricted this summer, as a condition of entering trade talks.


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