At the tail end of 2014-15, Ondrej Pavelec began a torrid stretch of excellent play, powering the Jets to the post-season. But was this enough to solidify his position as the team’s starter next season? Or is Michael Hutchinson ready to step in as the new starter for 2015-16?
Ondrej Pavelec finished the regular season en fuego.
After splitting time with backup Michael Hutchinson at times throughout the season, Pavelec started 16 of the Jets’ final 18 games, including all four games in the playoffs. During the team’s regular season stretch drive, Pavelec piled up some incredible numbers:
- 19 of 24 possible points
- 18 goals in 12 games (1.50 goals against average)
- 353 saves on the 371 shots he faced (.951 save percentage).
- 4 shutouts
While the Jets sputtered, suffering a sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs, Pavelec certainly did his part in helping fuel the Jets to their first post-season berth since returning to Winnipeg.
Yet, Pavelec’s run as the team’s starter has been plagued by inconsistent, often disappointing, results. In his eight NHL seasons, he’s posted below-average career marks; a 2.86 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. During this time span, the lowest average goalie rates were posted in 2008-09 – a .908 save percentage (identical to Pavelec’s career mark) and a 2.73 goals against average for all goalies.
These NHL averages suggest that Pavelec has been league-average at best (probably worse) which is pretty damning for Pavelec.
In the long run, the Jets have a lot to look forward to in goal. 22-year-old Connor Hellebuyck was recently anointed the best goalie prospect in hockey and goaltender Eric Comrie was ranked fourth. This pair of lauded future talents will be ready to handle goaltending duties in Winnipeg in a few years. The future is bright.
But last season’s playoff berth (and disappointing performance) is still fresh. Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien need new deals next summer too. Things change quickly at the NHL level. The Jets can’t afford to wait for Hellebuyck or Comrie to develop. They need a solution in net now.
Is Michael Hutchinson that solution? Does Pavelec deserve a chance to build on the success he flashed at the end of the regular season last year? Here’s a look the scouting reports and advanced stats that help to answer that question.
Prior to entering the league, Pavelec was seen as a surefire NHL starter with great potential. At 6’3, 218 lbs., he’s among the bigger NHL regular netminders. Pavelec couples his huge net presence with excellent athleticism and has quick recover abilities. He is known for having tremendous instincts in goal, which he relies on to fuel the occasional jaw-dropping save:
*you may wish to mute your speakers before taking in this reel due to the creator’s choice of background music
Despite the flashy acrobatics, a long list of knocks have added up against Pavelec. His entertaining reel of diving saves and aggressive play highlights his tendency to kick absorbable pucks back out into the slot. The Hockey News‘ scouting report on Pavelec sums the issues up well:
“[Pavelec] is still working on his consistency, rebound control and on keeping his net (instead of over-committing). Doesn’t always read the play properly.”
For Jets fans, this just confirms what the eyes have already seen. Pavelec relies on excellent athleticism to bail out his aggressive tendencies. This style can work for a stretch but has played a key role in Pavelec’s below-average standard stats profile over the long run.
Pavelec’s underlying stats don’t offer much support for his case as starter either.
Among starters with more than 5400 minutes of ice time since 2012, Pavelec ranks 25th out of 25 qualifying goaltenders in standard save percentage. His adjusted save percentage and high danger shots save rate rank last in this group as well. While Pavelec should be credited for mustering enough playing time to be counted among the top-25 of the past three seasons, his performance has been clearly below average.
But is Hutchinson the better choice?
Hope in Hutchinson
Jets backup Michael Hutchinson has a much smaller body of work to evaluate.
Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the third round of the 2008 draft, Hutchinson moved up and down between Boston’s AHL and ECHL clubs, never reaching the NHL despite reasonable results.
After climbing the organizational ladder in 2013-14, Hutchinson landed in Winnipeg full-time last season, starting 38 games. He posted a 2.39 goals against average last season, along with a .914 save percentage. The save percentage is in line with the NHL average while the goals against mark is better than average. Both stats are stronger than Pavelec’s stats.
Beyond Hutchinson’s stronger standard stats, the two differ greatly in their styles. Hutchinson is known for being a highly consistent performing who relies on mobility, quickness, and positioning to stop pucks. The short video below highlights a little of Hutchinson’s work (from 2014):
*again, feel free to mute
In a way, there isn’t a ton to see. Hutchinson makes almost all of the saves in this highlight pack by letting the puck hit him and smothering the puck instead of surrendering any rebound. When forced to move side-to-side, Hutchinson flashes great lateral movement and completely takes away the bottom of the net from shooters.
This type of quiet, steady goaltending stands in stark contrast to Pavelec’s style. There’s no scramble to Hutchinson’s game. He’s almost dull. And that’s a compliment.
The advanced stats story backs up Hutchinson’s value as well:
Pavelec dominates the time-on-ice comparison. After that, Hutchinson prevails. His high-danger save percentage at 5-on-5 is only around 40th percentile among the top-90 goalies since the lockout. But that mark is better than Pavelec’s (near the 30th percentile). In save percentage and adjusted save percentage, Hutchinson is in ~70th percentile while Pavelec lags well back below the 40th percentile.
The Financial Picture
In the salary cap world, personnel decisions involve more than just strict player A versus player B comparisons. For a budget team like the Jets, the amount of available salary cap is even lower.
With that internal budget in mind, Winnipeg faces a major crunch next summer. Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd are set to become unrestricted free agents. Mark Scheifele and Hutchinson add to the financial problem as both will become restricted free agents.
Juggling this financial situation may lead the team to explore moving Pavelec away (if they can find a taker). Pavelec’s $3.9 million salary continues until 2017-18, making him a costly, subpar option in the Winnipeg crease. Though Hutchinson will command a raise on the $575,000 he’ll earn next year, there’s an opportunity for the team to save much-need cash by making Hutchinson the team’s starter in the short run. A free agent with experience could man the backup position (Ray Emery? Rob Zepp? Peter Budaj again?) for Hutchinson during his first season as the team’s starter.
Keeping Pavelec instead of turning to these goaltending alternatives might sound good but the financial savings that might pave the way to re-sign one of the team’s key upcoming free agents probably sounds even better.
With a controlled style of play, superior standard and advanced stats, and a growing body of NHL work, Hutchinson has emerged as a clear starting option for the Jets in 2015-16. Though his lack of NHL service does give some pause, one look at Pavelec’s lengthy NHL track record is enough to know that last season’s strong run to the post-season was a streak, not a breakthrough.
What do you think, Jets fans? Do you have faith that Michael Hutchinson is ready to take over the starting job in Winnipeg? Or is the team best off relying on Ondrej Pavelec until Connor Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie, or both, are ready for the NHL?
Let us know in the comment section below.