Have The Winnipeg Jets Reached Their Goal In Goal?

Where are the Winnipeg Jets at when it comes to goaltending?  

The only thing harder than playing goal in the NHL may be judging it.  There are elite goalies, average goalies, and guys with major sunburn on their necks. The only ones that fans consistently recognize are the elite ones.  So where are the Winnipeg Jets in this?

In places like Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Sunrise, there is no doubt – few fans call talk-radio shows complaining about their goalkeeper.  Roberto Luongo may have an off night, but fans know he is elite and they can trust him.  Fans in Montreal do not take to Twitter to debate whether Carey Price should start the next game or the one after that.  In Winnipeg, however, that is certainly not the case.

Neither version of the Winnipeg Jets has had a true numberone or elite goalie. Jets 1.0 had Bob Essensa and Nikolai Khabibulin:  one had a couple of great seasons and the other turned into an elite puck-stopper.  They were the two best, but neither were top-notch guys.  It is easy to see why fans in the city have struggled with who is in the crease.  Not only have we seen some bad ones, we have never experienced the joy of watching one of the best in the game.

Winnipeggers have never had the pleasure of being able to relax during a game.  There is always an underlying fear that the puck will go in every time it enters your end.  When Patrick Roy was playing, there was a sense that a lead was safe.  Fans didn’t flinch on every shot or panic when the puck entered the zone.  His team had confidence and so did the crowd.  That is a luxury foreign to Winnipeg hockey fans.
We can argue all day about Ondrej Pavelec; there is little left unsaid.  While many complain about him, others praise him.  The discord tells you what you need to know: if he was truly elite, there would be no debate.
Michael Hutchinson has less history but the scenario is basically the same.  He is younger, so things could change: he is a back-up NHL goalie or a starting AHL goalie. Take your pick.  One day, or on another team, he may start.  He may even have a long career but, and I believe we can agree, he won’t be elite.
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Here is where things get interesting.  Connor Hellebuyck is the guy we have been waiting for (so we have been told).  He has the skill set, the size, the demeanor, and the cold-blood that makes a goalie great.  He definitely has the support of the organization and has everything that any fan could hope for, BUT does he have “IT”?  Only time will tell…or is that time now?

It appears Connor Hellebuyck has made a case to keep the crease when Ondrej Pavelec returns from his injury.  This is the career-start everyone hoped for.  Not only does he pass the eye test, his stats back it up.  His rebound control is solid.  It seems as though he actually places the puck where he wants it to go.  He is calm in attitude and with his movement.  He doesn’t make flashy saves but does make the ones he should.  That is the most important thing a goaltender can do.  An elite goalie makes the save that keeps you in the game.  Period.  Whether that means a big stop, to keep a lead, or one that keeps the deficit to one goal rather than two.  That is what makes a goalie stand out.  That separates the greats from the average.

For far too long, the Winnipeg Jets have had guys that can’t or don’t make that save.  That one save made night after night.  Have the fans finally got what they’ve always wanted?  Is Connor Hellebuyck the “real-deal”?  It’s still early and only time will tell but, so far, so good.


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