Why the Jets should not impulsive with their goaltending

The Winnipeg Jets have their starter Ondrej Pavelec on Injury Reserve at least until January. Until then, the Jets will be rolling with a tandem of Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck.

There are some concerned with the loss of Pavelec. Jets Nation’s own Angelo Montilla looked at five possible trade targets for the Jets. After all, losing a starter for most teams could be the kiss of death when it comes to making the playoffs.

Let’s see why this is not the case with the Jets.

Hutchinson has been pretty good and better than most of the options

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Sample size (minutes from 2013-14 season to present) is displayed by the size of each circle. The x-axis is all-minutes save percentage, while the y-axis is after adjusting for shot location. Colour meanwhile represents save percentage only for shots in the high-danger area (low slot).

For the most part, we know what to expect from Ondrej Pavelec. He’s been a below average goaltender in terms of stopping the puck, although adjusting him for shot quality improves him to very slightly less below average.

It is still too early to say anything for sure, but all signs have been positive that Hutchinson is a potential upgrade thus far. Hutchinson even out performed Pavelec at the AHL level as well.

It is completely possible, and more likely than not, that Hutchinson playing as the starter elicits better results.

In addition, Hutchinson has out performed Cam Ward and Jimmy Howard, two goaltenders that have performed similarly to worse than Pavelec. He’s also performed better than James Reimer and John Gibson. The only one that has done better has an extremely small sample to draw off of.

Hellebuyck could very well be the best of the bunch

Calling Hellebuyck a good goaltender would be a huge undersell.

Hellebuyck jumped on to the map after an amazing season in the NAHL. Hellebuyck stopped 93 per cent of all shots he faced, earning NAHL’s Goaltender of the Year and Rookie of the Year for 2011-20112, The 6’4 “big and boring” netminder went on to play for UMass-Lowell in the NCAA for two seasons where Hellebuyck set the NCAA record for multi-season career save percentage, while posting more shutouts than loses.

Last year Hellebuyck took over the AHL starting role from veteran Peter Budaj for the Jets’ farm team, the St. John’s IceCaps. There Hellebuyck posted a 0.921 save percentage as a rookie while carrying the bulk of the load. To place how significant Hellebuyck’s performance was, Hellebuyck won more games than he lost despite the IceCaps being the most outshot team in the entire AHL.

Hellebuyck even proved himself with the big boys, posting the highest save percentage for all netminders with 5 or more games at the World Championships. Hellebuyck was listed as one of USA’s three MVPs while taking home the bronze. There were many who argued Hellebuyck deserved the tournament’s Best Goaltender award instead of Pekka Rinne.

It’s because of these accomplishments that we ranked Hellebuyck as Jets Nation’s third best prospect, just behind Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor. Jets Nation was not the only ones high on Hellebuyck as ESPN’s Corey Pronman ranked Hellebuyck as the 5th best goaltending prospect (note: paywall) and InGoal Magazine’s Greg Balloch ranked the Jets’ prospect above every other netminder.

What’s probable is not the only thing possible

There is a caveat to all of this. While Hutchinson and Hellebuyck as a tandem are likely an upgrade, and likely produce better results than the Jets have received previously, anything can happen when it comes to goaltending.

Over at Hockey-Graphs, Nick Emptage showed how one should expect a goaltender to perform relative to the amount of shots the netminder has faced:

goalieproject_fig1

The three colours represent 3 different levels of goaltenders (red = above average starter, green = back up, blue = replacement level).

The Jets have typically allowed just under 31 shots per game. If Pavelec were to return at around mid January, we’d have about 600-700 shots split between the pair of Hutchinson and Hellebuyck. This is hardly enough sample for talent to significantly separate in terms of results.

This is important to remember for two things:

Jets’ performance in net is not necessarily representative of the talent or most-likely performance in the long-run. The Jets new tandem may indeed be an upgrade but not garner the results of an upgrade. We may even see people say that the two are not ready, are too young, and need more time to develop.

In actuality, the time is now to start giving these two some significant time in the NHL to see what the Jets have. The peak for most NHL netminders is around 25 years of age.

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Graph courtesy of nhlnumbers.com with edits by Garret Hohl

The other key factor with small samples making performance and talent being very loosely related is that it makes it unnecessary to trade. Garnering the best goaltender talent will not guarantee better results over the short-term.

If that is the case, there is no point in trading real assets to gain something that may or may not elicit any real gain.

In the long-run it is most likely that Hellebuyck and Hutchinson is the best possible tandem for the Jets and an upgrade over Pavelec; however, in the short-run it is possible for a goaltender to perform vastly different than their true skill level due to outside factors.

For these two reasons the Jets should not be brash and trade away assets for a temporary solution.