Photo by Galatians Design
With the announcement in April that Ondrej Pavelec would return as the starting goaltender for the Jets, the hope of a playoff birth for the Jets was effectively dashed. We’ve looked at him in every way imaginable, only to find that he’s simply not an NHL quality goaltender. It’s a serious problem and that it continues as such is vexing.
Inside we’ll look at what we can expect from the Jets’ tandem this year, ask who will back-up the back-up, and see how it compares to the rest of the Division.
The Depth Chart
Looking at his career to-date prior to last season, we found Pav was somewhere near an AHL call-up level goaltender. In that same article, we discussed his Quality Start rate and Blow-Up rate to find that he was more prone to 5+ goals against than even waiver wire ‘tenders. While we hoped for more in the season just played, Pavelec instead turned in his worst cumulative season to date with just a .901 save percentage – even below his dismal career average of .906.
The team cut his back-to-back games – a weak point historically – to just two (October losses to Minnesota and Dallas and a December mishap with losses to Vancouver and a shelling by Edmonton). The team moved Byfuglien who was seen by many as the cause of frequent turnovers. And still, not only did Al Montoya (sv% .920 in 28 games) out-play Pavelec , but the team’s share of shots went up with Monty between the pipes! (Corsi % 51.8 with Montoya, 49.1 with Pavelec).
Early in the season, we talked to goalie scout Justin Goldman about Pavelec and he gave us an effective summation:
“Imagine if you measured the distance both guys traveled in their creases over the course of the game with string. Now take those strings, straighten them out in a perfect line and lay them next to each other. Metaphorically speaking, Pavelec probably traveled around 10 miles, while Price probably traveled around 100 feet…and he faced 12 more shots in the game. Those are imaginary numbers, but what I’m saying is that Price’s economy of movement is truly elite, yet he can still make the athletic, reflex-based save when needed. If Pavelec can learn to economize his movements and utilize his size a little better, he’ll “travel” less distances over the course of a game, give up less dangerous rebounds, and ultimately take the next step in his overall development.”
Even with all that data, we still asked Travis Hrubeniuk to watch every game all season and count how and why every single goal went in on both goalies. His extremely detailed, fascinating review is here, and his frustrated conclusion offers only doom-and-gloom:
“The Winnipeg Jets can make major improvements in every other
aspect of their team this season, but with Ondrej Pavelec in net I am almost
certain that they are set up for failure.”
Pavelec was considered by almost everyone outside the organization as an obvious amnesty buy-out candidate, and instead the Jets let go of their journeyman back-up and brought back the worst goalie in the league to play over 80 games in the last three seasons.
Expected goals against: 186
Michael Hutchinson (rookie)
Hutchinson came over as an AHL level netminder from the Boston/Providence system and didn’t immediately impress. In fact, the St John’s job was handed to Edward Pasquale despite Hutchinson’s better track record in the AHL at a similar age. Hutch was an early dismissal from the NHL camp, sealing his fate as the #4 man. By the end of the year, Hutch had taken over the starting role for the IceCaps and backstopped them to the Calder Cup finals. He also had a brief appearance on the Jets where he was beaten just 5 times in his first 3 NHL games. That cup of coffee was enough to make Al Montoya expendable and here we are with a known problem as the starter and a rookie as the backup.
These are the moments players push themselves onto rosters, and he’s hard to argue Hutch didn’t earn it. At 24, Hutchinson had similar numbers to the ones players like Justin Peters and Anton Khudobin put up before making the jump to the NHL, and starting in the ECHL last year spoke more about the team’s process of asset management and how competition for jobs is organized than it did about the player’s ability.
Still – it’s not an ideal scenario through no fault of Hutchinson’s.
Expected goals against: 54
Connor Hellebuyck (rookie)
Pasquale put up his best season on record, but it was clear he was passed on the depth chart by the outside hire and so the Jets’ traditional 3rd stringer was also ushered out (now with Capitals). At the same time, contracts were given to Eric Comrie in October and Connor Hellebuyck in April. Comrie is not AHL eligible for this year, but Hellebuyck appears to be competing with just Jussi Olkinuora for the starting job in St John’s. Olkinuora has only 11 games of AHL experience after leaving the University of Denver to play pro last year, and another 27 in the ECHL. It was a season of struggle, though, and he was a sub-.900 goalie in both towns. I had some positive things to say about him from the Young Stars Tournament last September, but it’s clear the organization doesn’t consider him to be the genuine article.
Hellebuyck, on the other hand, stole the crease as a Freshman in UMass-Lowell and posted an insane 35-11-2 record with a .944 save percentage and a 1.63 GAA over his two college seasons. He won the inaugural award for best goaltender in college hockey. He won MVP of the Hockey East tournament in both his seasons, the only UMass-Lowell player to win it since Dwayne Roloson in 1994. He describes his own play as ‘big and boring,’ which is hockey-erotica in a city used to watching a grown man flail to make improbable saves because of poor positioning. It’s clear the team is expecting their next goalie to come from one of Hellebuyck or Comrie, and by timing alone, it seems Hellebuyck has taken the lead.
It’s Hellebuyck’s first pro season, so expectations have to be kept in check. But on a franchise with honest competition for jobs, he would have a serious shot at playing meaningful minutes for the big league club. As it is, the Jets prefer a ‘dues-paying’ model of development so a Hellebuyck appearance in the NHL likely means a disaster has taken place on the depth chart above him.
Expected goals against: 0.
I’ve suggested the Jets have 240 goals against this coming season, up from their annual total that hovers around 230. The reasons are clear, I hope. Montoya – though not a strong goalie throughout his career – posted very good numbers in an unusually high work load for the Jets’ back-up. In 2011, Chris Mason started in 15 games. In the shortened 2012, Montoya only started 5 games. That 25 games were started by goalies other than Pavelec last season was unusual and reflected Pavelec’s especially poor play and the disarray of a season with so many changes.
The Jets only face 7 back-to-back games this up-coming season (down from 10, 13, and 15 going back in time) and so I’ve penciled Hutchinson in to start just 20 games. That reflects a lighter load for Pavelec than in his first two years (a known priority) and Maurice’s previous coaching record of playing his starter almost regardless of the numbers (Cam Ward). Hutchinson is a rookie, and a 24 year old rookie without a lot of pedigree or relevant experience. I’ve estimated a 2.70 GAA for him, and 3.00 for Pavelec. It would be a bad season for Pavelec, and he can (in theory) do slightly better. But I believe the defence group is worse without Byfuglien and the forward group is very shallow. Your mileage may vary.
Around the Division
Chicago: Crawford, Raanta
Dallas: Lehtonen, Lindback, Campbell
Minnesota: Backstrom, Harding, Kuemper
Nashville: Rinne, Hutton, Mazanec
St Louis: Elliot, Allen
It was a very active off-season for the Central. Former over-the-hill back-ups Nik Khabibulin and Tim Thomas left the Division (league) and were replaced with better options on their respective teams. At the same time, Halak and Miller left St Louis at different moments of the same season, leaving Jake Allen in a battle with the inconsistent Brian Elliot. Carter Hutton wasn’t up to the task when Rinne was fighting infection, so his job is precarious and might be taken by Hellberg or others, but regardless, it’s a new phenomenon that Nashville isn’t brimming with goalies. Rinne’s health will be a major concern. And of course, so will the health of Minnesota’s group. They used 5 goalies last year and no one is sure how their depth chart will shake out moving forward.
Despite all the change, the Jets still have the worst duo in the Division. The Blues don’t inspire with their group in net, but the group in front of them ensures their numbers will be considerably better than those posted by Pavelec and Hutchinson.
It’s a position of weakness.