By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001
No matter what you think of Dan Cloutier as a goaltender, give him his due as a team player.
The 24-year-old could have made things very uncomfortable for the Lightning this season, but he kept his mouth shut while working through the frustration of decreased playing time.
Even standing in the lobby of the team hotel in St. Louis late Wednesday after the announcement of the deal that sent him to the Canucks for defenseman Adrian Aucoin, Cloutier took the high road. "I enjoyed Tampa," he said. "All the players, the training staff, everybody was good to me."
It would have been easy for Cloutier to lash out. He lost the battle for the No. 1 job to Kevin Weekes while injured. And though not begrudging Weekes his position, Cloutier believed he should have played more.
But that was as much controversy as Cloutier would provide, and it's not like your trusty media types didn't give him a chance to spout off.
Occasionally he was asked if he was mad about riding the bench. When he was the scapegoat for a loss -- as he was in October after Tampa Bay's 7-2 meltdown to the Devils (a game in which Cloutier was given zero defensive help) -- he was asked to respond.
When he did, it was always in a low monotone (quite different from his voice in casual conversation), and he never expressed frustration with teammates or coaches.
"Danny is young and wants to be the No. 1 guy. You don't expect him to be happy," coach John Tortorella said. "He handled it very well by not causing a disturbance and fighting through it."
When rumors persisted that Cloutier did not get along with former coach Steve Ludzik, Cloutier denied them and spoke about how Ludzik would take shots on him before practice to give him extra work.
"I've never had a coach do that for me before," Cloutier said.
Cloutier even made friends with the player who took his job. He said his relationship with Weekes was the best he had had with another goaltender.
"I think he was great," Weekes said. "A really good guy, and I think he's a really good goalie. He handled himself extremely well. He was a great partner and a great teammate."
Cloutier is great friends with captain Vinny Lecavalier. The two had adjoining stalls in the Ice Palace locker room. When Lecavalier's friend Brad Richards joined the team, he also joined Cloutier. The three were at dinner when Cloutier got the phone call that he had been traded.
"It's very emotional," Lecavalier said. "We've been together for over a year and a half. We're always together. He's a great guy, a guy with a lot of determination and great qualities."
Cloutier may get his first start for the Canucks on Wednesday in Vancouver against the Capitals. That would be his first step toward becoming a No. 1 goaltender, a position the Canucks expect him to take.
"All the ups and down made me a better goalie," Cloutier said of his time with Tampa Bay. "I know some people don't think it showed, but it did."
As for the Lightning, he said "I want them to do well."
Then a smile. "Except when I play them."
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE: Believe it or not, the Lightning could be interested in Canucks goaltender Felix Potvin -- under the right circumstances.
Potvin struggled so badly in Vancouver, the team traded for Cloutier and assigned Potvin to a 14-day minor-league conditioning assignment. Vancouver hopes for a trade but probably will have to waive Potvin.
The 29-year-old has 193 victories and entered the season with a 2.88 goals-against average. But with about $900,000 left on a $2.7-million deal, unloading him will be difficult. His contract expires after the season, when a bargain-basement deal loaded with performance incentives might be attractive.
Word out of Vancouver, though, is Potvin could be traded to the Avalanche because Colorado backup David Aebischer has no playoff experience.