Last night’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens has left Winnipeg Jet fans in turmoil. While there exists a lot of blame to go around the Jet locker room, this was the second game in the last couple of weeks where the number one goalie was yanked in place of the backup. Connor Hellebuyck let in three goals in the first seven shots last night and was pulled with six minutes remaining in the first period. And this set twitter and Facebook on fire.
To be kind, the Winnipeg Jets two goaltenders have been, at best, lukewarm this year. It can be argued that no goaltender has stolen a game, something that good teams expect their goaltenders to do every once in a while. But this year, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson have been unable to play with any consistency or steal a game from the opposition. There have been very good games, but nothing sensational and nothing that seems to transfer from one game to another.
To begin the 2016-17 season, Jets management made a bold decision to send veteran Ondrej Pavelec to the AHL Manitoba Moose and let the two “kids” take the reins with the NHL club. No one said this would be completely smooth and growing pains were expected. However, the growing pains have resulted in a good handful of games that were winnable by the Jets if not for the poor goaltending that they received.
Hellebuyck, at 23, has had some very good games but has also had to be pulled a few times. Hutchinson, the 26-year old, has faired worse. His play has been suspect at best and has resulted in him playing the odd game or coming in relief of a struggling Connor Hellebuyck.
Pavelec fans have been screaming for his return to the Jets. By fans, I mean the 6 or 7 people in Winnipeg that still support Pavelec. I have been a loud advocate for the past few years in favor of Pav, but remain very isolated in my position. In my mind, Pavelec is a very good goaltender who has been stuck with a not very good team. The same can be said for Hellebuyck and Hutchinson, of course. The main difference with Pavelec is that he has the ability, and has exercised it often, to steal games for the Jets. He gives them an opportunity to win a few that could have gone away with sub-par or even average goaltending. He can do that.
So here is my argument: what is to lose from bringing Pavelec up from the AHL for a few games? The Jets really can’t be worse in goal right now. Pavelec might not do better, but he would not do worse. But he may steal some games for Winnipeg. At worse, we put to rest any argument or discussion about whether Pavelec brings some extra sauce to the Winnipeg Jets. We have spend 43 games this season finding out that goaltending is a significant issue for the Jets. Why not exercise the option to bring up our $4.5 million man and see if it has any impact on the team. If Pavelec does not perform, he goes back down. He is a UFA at the end of the year and won’t be back with the Jets regardless.
I don’t buy the argument that goaltenders do better with competition and pressure. That isn’t goaltending. Actually, I think goaltenders do worse with pressure. It is a sensitive position that is about mental acuity and position play. It is far different than any other position on a hockey team, which is why goaltenders mature later than other players. It is rare to have a 21-year old phenom start in goal in the NHL. It happens, but not regularly.
Play Pavelec for 2-3 games and set the record straight: either he is the better goaltender and gives the team wins that they are currently losing, or he isn’t as good and it was the right decision to send him down last September.
But do something.
Yeah putting Pavelec in net will really develop Helly… stupid article.
Not sure if that is in the cards. Personally, I would have had him up from day one. Pavy is an average to decent NHL goalie with as you said the ability to steal games. Helleybuck has played better than some give him credit for, but as you write, he has been inconsistent. I would argue that because of the way he plays the game that when he is good, you don’t notice him as he is not a reflex goalie. He plays the angles, relies on mechanics, more towards Carey Price rather than Pavelec who tends to be more erratic in goal. On the flipside, when Helleybuck is off, he looks absolutely terrible.
People are very quick to criticize Cheveldaeoff for signing Pavelec to that contract extension all those years ago, but hindsight is not always 20|20. Pavelec was voted the team MVP the year he signed the contract. He also stood on his head to get the guys into the playoffs a couple of years back.
The truth is that the Jets are a young team that needs to go through some growth. Fans are restless, and the media is stoking the fire. Having said that, I believe this team is exactly where it should be. This year was set aside to see what they have in Helleybuck. The Jets are not trying to lose, but internally this has to be seen as a development year, otherwise Pavelec would have been on the team, they would have brought in a couple of seasoned NHLers on PTO’s or short term deals and taken a run with a more experienced bottom six. Not to mention the plethora of options they could have looked out to round out their D core.
Bottomline is this, this team has talent but lacks experience. Veteran pieces like Stafford and possibly Perrault will either get moved out at the deadline or left unprotected in the expansion draft. Hutchinson will be left unprotected and will not get selected and will likely be in the minors next year or bought out depending on the number of contracts the Jets are carrying heading into next year. Management will have to decide whether they want Comrie to get a shot and do a 1a, 1b thing with 2 inexperienced guys or acquire a veteran to reduce Helleybucks workload next year. At this point, I don’t think he is ready to handle 60 +games as a starter. He may never be. The years that Tim Thomas won his Vezina Trophy and Stanley Cup he played around 45 games.
Regardless, I think that as far as Pavelec goes, the ship has sailed on him. The media ran him out of town because of pedestrian numbers, fair or not. I do not think they will walk it back, they want to see what Helleybuck and this team is made of. Again, I want to stress that in my mind, the case is there too. Personally, I think they out it to the people paying for the seats to give this team the best possible chance to win. The alternative, of course, is to fix the Powerplay and Penalty kill, but that is a topic for another post.
Great comment. Thx!