The Winnipeg Jets have an Achilles Heel, and his name is Ondrej Pavelec. when Pavelec’s 5 year, $19.5 million extension was signed, Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said that "there’s no question – having stong stable goaltending is very important." It hasn’t exactly worked out that way for Pavelec, or the Jets.
In fact, his 0.885 Save Percentage (Sv%) currently ranks 48th in the NHL, and is well below what an NHL team needs to have success. If this were a simple blemish on an otherwise stellar record, the Jets would have nothing to worry about. But unfortunately that isn’t the case.
If we take a quick peek at average NHL save percentage, we can see how deep the problem has been since Pavelec began playing regularly in the NHL:
Pavelec Save Percentage: 0.906
NHL Average Save Percentage: 0.911
Pavelec Save Percentage: 0.914
NHL Average Save Percentage: 0.913
Pavelec Save Percentage: 0.906
NHL Average Save Percentage: 0.914
Pavelec Save Percentage: 0.885
NHL Average Save Percentage: 0.908
Only once in his career as a starter has Ondrej Pavelec been (slightly) above average in the NHL, and simply reaching an average standing by no means annoints him as a number one goaltender. Pavelec has played 196 NHL games since 2007-08 including this year. For goalies who have played at least 150 games since the 2004-05 lockout, Pavelec’s 0.906 save percentage compares closest to guys like Ray Emery, Manny Legace, Johan Hedberg, Ty Conklin, and the like.
How many of those guys get the "strong, solid" stamp of approval? And how many of them get paid like Corey Schneider ($4 million cap hit) and Antti Niemi ($3.8 million cap hit)? The price tag on Ondrej Pavelec’s extension includes a $3.9 million cap commitment.
Had the Jets received merely average goaltending from Pavelec (0.914 Sv%) in 2011-12, he would have allowed roughly 16 fewer goals than he did, which is not insignificant for a team that was only eight points out of a playoff spot. Even worse, unless Pavelec can start to stop pucks consistently the Jets will continue to have a difficult time making the dance in the East.
WHAT ARE THE JETS TO DO?
There are really only two options: Option the first is to wait it out and hope that Pavelec figures out how to play in the NHL. He’s only 25 years old, and there is still room for him to grow. If, despite his history, Pavalec manages to impriove, the Jets will have a number-one goalie locked up for four more seasons. If he doesn’t, however, winnipeg will be left with a very expensive boat anchor a la Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers.
Which brings us to option two:
It would cost the Jets $5,416,664 in real dollars to buy out Pavelec in the off season, and even better is that it wouldn’t count against the cap. Thank you, compliance buyouts.
This is an extemely rash option which is unlikely to be popular with Cheveldayoff and the Jets owners, but one wonders if it might be worth a look. Taking a $3.9 million goalie into a lower cap world is a dangerous proposition unless that goalie can play. If he can’t, the Jets are completely stuck with him because players can no longer be buried in the AHL uner the new CBA.
The nature of the business means that the chances of a buyout in this case are virtually non-existent, but refusing to admit to a bad gamble wouldn’t make it a good one. A lot is resting on the shoulders of the young Czech goaltender. Jets fans can only hope that it’s not too much.