Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has been inconsistent – or consistently sub-average, as you prefer – during his time between the pipes in Winnipeg. The veteran goaler was supplanted as Winnipeg’s number one starter by Michael Hutchinson this past the fall, but he regained his usual position on the team and was stellar down the stretch.
Though Pavelec was ultimately unable to provide the Jets with the goaltending they required to hang with the Anaheim Ducks in a first-round sweep, it has to be noted that the Stanley Cup playoffs probably don’t return to Portage and Main for the first time in 19 years without Pavelec’s late-season run of competence.
Still, in looking at what holes the Jets need to address if they hope to contend with their current core: goaltending remains at the very top of the list. Will we see the Jets change direction in any meaningful way in net this offseason?
In the course of conducitng a standard postmortem on the Jets during an appearance on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto on Thursday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie mentioned that he doesn’t expect the Jets to address their goaltending situation this summer.
Hutchinson was great for a good part of the year and he kind of faded , and they were fortunate to have Pavelec playing as well as he did.
Some people outside of Winnipeg don’t have the same confidence as they seem to (in Winnipeg), but I would assume for now that the goaltending will be status quo. If there comes a point where Hutchinson proves that he’s ready to take over the No. 1 on a full-time basis and give them the kind of goaltending that they’ll need in the playoffs, then they could look at moving Pavelec on and spending their dollars elsewhere, but for now I think their goaltending appears to be set.
Pavelec has two years remaining on a contract that carries a $3.9 million cap-hit (though his salary is significantly higher in each of the next two seasons – a major concern for a budget conscious organization like the Jets). Considering the ease with which teams seem to be finding competent goaltending in the bargain bin of late – Devan Dubnyk and Scott Darling, step right up – it seems likely that Pavelec would be difficult to move for anything of value, frankly.
There are a few options on the open market that could make sense for the Jets – Annti Niemi and Dubnyk come to mind – and there are a variety of talented young goaltenders that could be available in trades this summer, from Jonathan Bernier, to James Reimer, to Jacob Markstrom, to Eddie Lack. McKenzie would suggest that the Jets are unlikely to invest treasure, salary or cap space to upgrade in net though.
On some level that approach makes sense. The Jets are locked into Pavelec, and as an internal cap team seem unlikely to buyout the veteran netminder or retain salary to help lubricate a trade. Meanwhile Hutchinson is a decent bet to give them average or better goaltending in a 1A-type role, and Connor Hellebuyck is emerging as a legitimate option following an excellent season with the St. John’s Ice Caps of the American Hockey League.
Considering that the Jets received top-10 goaltending at 5-on-5 this season and have some intriguing internal depth options, perhaps it’s most sensible for them to wait out Pavelec’s deal and give Hutchinson every opportunity to emerge as the club’s starter.
The only issue with that approach? Prospect wealth, money and cap space aren’t the only finite assets that the Jets have to weigh with here. There’s also time.
No one would call this Jets team old, but their best players are beginning to get up there. Bryan Little is 27, Blake Wheeler is 28, Andrew Ladd is 29, Dustin Byfuglien is 30. They’re all bona fide top of the roster pieces and they’re all about to pass their peak years (if they haven’t passed those years already).
As good as the Jets’ prospect system is, and it’s arguably the best in hockey at the moment, is Kevin Cheveldayoff really willing to allow that core group’s best years to pass them by without solidifying the club’s goaltending?