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.