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Huet or Niemi? Who's Number One?

It's a simple enough question, just one that doesn't have a clear answer.

For Chicago Blackhawks fans, you have to assume the team's goaltending is a non-issue. On offense and defense you have enough depth to need a scuba suit just to reach the bottom.

In fact, the defense, which includes such young and superstaresque players as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker, and Brian Campbell (who is the oldest of the bunch, at over 30, but is still arguably in his prime) has allowed the team's goaltending problem to become an afterthought. They're probably the ones that are as guilty as anyone for making this a bigger mystery than it should be.

Logic does dictate, however, that Cristobal Huet is the number-one, ahead of back-up Antti Niemi, mostly due to the facts that he was the team's huge free-agent acquisition two off-seasons ago, he has played more games, and he has more experience. However, look below the surface and you just might find an argument for Niemi.

Niemi has by far the better numbers. For one, he leads the league with a 1.99 goals against average (Huet is seventh at 2.25). Niemi also has the better save percentage with .918 (12th in the league), while Huet is barely staying afloat the league's leaderboard in 30th place with a .904 percentage.

And while Huet has played 38 games to Niemi's 18, the numbers show that Niemi's is making more out of his starts than the one he would usurp. His 13 wins give him a winning percentage of 72|PERCENT|. Huet's is 61|PERCENT| (23 victories). Now, 61|PERCENT| is not bad, but when you're being outplayed by your back-up as consistently as Huet is, one kind of gets the sense that it's only a matter of time before the student becomes the teacher, so to speak, if you can call Huet the teacher, that is. No offense to him, but this same old story must be getting old for him.

For Huet, who signed in the summer of 2008 and is making $5,625,000 per year, this would potentially represent the third-straight year he could not secure the number-one goaltending position with a team. In 2007-2008, he was the Montreal Canadiens's starter before general manager Bob Gainey shipped him off to the Washington Capitals for a second-round draft pick in favour of Carey Price. Last year, he couldn't win away the Blackhawks's net from Nikolai Khabibulin. Now Niemi threatens to take it away from him, and, to his credit, he's responding well to the pressure, just not well enough, unfortunately.

Both have started five of the team's last 10 games, and, coincidentally, both are 3-2 in their games, but that Niemi is starting the same amount of games so late in the season is more telling than any won-loss record. Pure speculation looks bad in any article or post, but it's hardly speculation if it's written on the wall. For Huet, what was once a crystal wall is beginning to show some cracks.

Hockey analysts like to say that defense wins games, but goaltending wins championships. Right now, the defense is definitely doing its job, and Niemi is just doing a better one in nets. As the past tells us, Huet is a number-one-'A' goalie. The present tells us that Niemi is quickly becoming a number-one-'A+' goalie. The future will most definitely tell us he will. Feel bad for Huet if you must, but not for the 'Hawks.

Bold prediction (because it's so early in the year; otherwise it wouldn't be): Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, with Niemi in nets, over the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.