Curious Case Of The Cluttered Crease?

July 1 Free Agency and the Winnipeg Jets: Part 2  –

As a follow-up from my previous post on how the Jets might deal with their lines going through this off-season I will do a positional post starting from the net out.

On June 21, 2011 the Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg was ratified by the NHL board of governors.  Excitement was in the air throughout Winnipeg and wherever ex-peggers now called home.  All of the talk in Canada was about the reincarnation of what would again be called the Jets. Simply having hockey back in Peg city was enough.  Now, four years later, the Winnipeg Jets and the city have had their first taste of playoff hockey and like any adrenaline high everyone is dreaming of getting right back to it but preferably for a much longer stint.

Many changes, tweaks, and moves will be made during this off-season with the grand goal to put the Winnipeg Jets in a strong position to repeat the opportunity to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup next spring.  One position that warrants a review is in net where the Jets used the tandem of Pavelec and Hutchinson who garnered almost an equal number of wins (22 and 21 respectively).  Pavelec had to play in considerably more games to get those wins (50 games played vs 38) but had career numbers in save percentage (.920) and goals against average (2.28).  This was quite timely as grumblings were growing louder and louder as Pavelec’s play seemed to be on a downward spiral over the previous 3 years dropping from a 914 sv% in 2010-11 to a career low of .901 (min 20gp) just last year, in 2013-14.  Adding fuel to that fire, his gaa was an abysmal 3.01 last year.  As for Hutchinson, he sported quite respectable rookie year numbers with a 914 sv% and 2.39 gaa and stole the starter job for long periods throughout the regular season.

Winnipeg Jets

Will it be Michael Hutchinson versus Ondrej Pavelec again?

But before we look at what to do with this position next year lets look at where the position has come from since that move to Winnipeg in the summer of 2011. It has been said many times that the cupboards were bare in organizational depth and prospect pool for the second phase of the Winnipeg Jets and perhaps no position more so than in net.  In 2010-11 the Atlanta Thrashers franchise ranked twenty-ninth out of thirty teams in goals against despite a decently impressive second year from Pavelec (2.73 gaa, 914 sv%).  Unfortunately, behind Pavelec there was little strength in net.  Back up journeyman goalie Chris Mason sported an ugly 3.39 gaa and .892 sv%.  The remaining goalies in the system consisted of Peter Mannino, Eddie Pasqual, Drew MacIntyre, and Chris Carrozzi. You can be forgiven for not recognizing any of these names as they have a combined 12 NHL games played between the lot of them.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise to see the Jets use four draft picks in the next three years on tenders.  Of those the Jets picked the much vaunted Eric Comrie in the second round of the 2013 draft and also highly touted Connor Hellebuyck in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.  A sleeper pick in that 2012 draft was Jamie Phillips taken in the seventh round.  Additionally, the Jets picked up two tenders in free agency, undrafted Juho Olkinuora and former Bruins third round pick Michael Hutchinson.  Suddenly, the bare cupboard was stocked with competitive players battling it out for dominance on the depth totem pole.

So next year, the Jets will have two goaltender battles on their hands.  A carry over from 2014-15 was the back and forth between Hutchinson and Pavelec as head coach Paul Maurice seemed content to ride the hot hand.  Barring something significant it would be easy to anticipate that repeating itself in 2015-16.  The other battle will be in the minors where incumbent Hellebuyck should get the majority of the starts, however Comrie will be coming up from junior hockey to get his first taste of the majors.

Where things get interesting is after next year, 2016-17 will see Hutchinson an RFA, Pavelec entering his last year before becoming a UFA, and Hellebuyck entering his last year before becoming an RFA.  So, a lot of pressure will be on all of these Jets goalies in 2015-16 as they will need to make a statement if they want to capitalize on the future of their careers.

That said, it seems that goalies tend to have a longer maturation process so it may serve the Jets to allow Hellebuyck time to continue to develop in the minors.  It may be that Pavelec is going to start moving into his prime shortly, many goalies find their stride in their late twenties/early thirties.  He is only twenty-seven and has already played approximately three hundred games in the NHL.  If Pavelec can prove himself as a bonafide starter this upcoming year then that should make at least one of the goalies behind him expendable.  Hopefully they can bring in some decent value.  If Pavelec struggles to prove himself this year then the Winnipeg Jets may decide to see what kind of value they can get for him and turn to a young gun in net. But that could be a frightening situation where history could repeat itself for the Jets franchise.

Watch for my next post discussing the Jets defencemen in a couple of weeks.

written by Guest Blogger @aneegadole


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