Netminders have usually served as a source of frustration for the Winnipeg Jets’ faithful over the last handful of years. Next year could be different if 23-year-old Connor Hellebuyck takes over the reigns as the teams number one goaltender. While Hellebuyck may be ready for the big leagues in the eyes of many, will he be appointed the most starts out of the Jets three goaltenders?
There are many logistics that could prevent this situation, even though many are in the belief Hellebuyck is ready, he might not end up being slotted number one on the depth chart.
The Jets have Michael Hutchinson under contract for the next two seasons and Ondrej Pavelec under contract for next season, both are one way contracts which makes things tricky for Hellebucyk to break through. The easiest solution would be for the Jets to send down Hellebuyck because he’s on a 2 way deal and still does not require waivers. Sending Hellebuyck down would prevent the team from choosing between Hutchinson or Pavelec.
But going the easiest route (contract wise) isn’t the smartest call, you want your best player getting the best opportunity, right?
Hellebucyk has proven that he is the better performing goaltender of the three thus far and no matter what move the Jets would have to do to make the former NCAA goaltender of the year the team’s starting goaltender, they should pull the trigger on it.
Last season in Hellebuyck’s brief taste of NHL action, he showcased he was the organizations best goaltender in a mere 26 games. The UMass-Lowell alum went 13-11 and managed a 2.34 goals against average to go along with a 0.918 save percentage. Those numbers don’t jump off the page and if your just looking off stats he won’t intrigue you but it should be noted that Hellebuyck was playing behind a weak team that was riddled with injuries all throughout the year.
Hellebuyck showed he was ready for the NHL and could handle the weight of being a starting goaltender.
When Ondrej Pavelec returned from an extended injury, the Jets elected to send Hellebuyck to the minors. The move was surprising considering all Hellebuyck had done and it was equally as surprising the Jets rushed back Pavelec and threw him back in to the fold as quickly as they did. The trust that the Jets have have always invested in Ondrej Pavelec had always been strange and one hopes it doesn’t continue despite Hellebuyck proving he’s the better goalie.
Sending Hellebuyck back to the minors caused another problem for the organization because it took opportunity away from their other coveted goaltending prospect in Eric Comrie. Comrie’s games were scaled back and his stellar season he had during Hellebuyck’s promotion went undermined when Hellebuyck returned to AHL action.
The Hellebuyck re-assignment did more harm than good last season and making the move this season would hurt the team even more and hurt their playoff chances (and maybe intentionally soon)
It’s a common trend for teams to over ripen their goaltenders. Hoping to ease them in to the big leagues and let them come along slowly rather than putting them in the crease sooner rather than later. But in the case of Hellebuyck, he’s ready for the NHL game. Two consistent AHL all star game nominations and his impressive showing at this past years IIHF World Championships ( Hellebuyck lead Team USA to a bronze medal) should excite Jet fans and make their mouths water for what the future could hold.
So how do the Jets work around moving one of their other two goaltenders who both have two way contracts?
While Ondrej Pavelec’s play has been subpar over the last few years, there could teams that would trade for him. With a year remaining at a 3.9 million dollar cap hit, the Jets could explore the market and likely find suitors if they volunteered to retain salary.
Michael Hutchinson may have just been signed but that doesn’t mean he’s safe from the chopping block. Barring a solid training camp, Hutchinson is likely a good candidate to be axed. Sending him to the Moose is also a viable option, although there is a chance the team would likely lose him to waivers. But, after a tough sophomore slump, there might not be much of a market for number 34.
No matter how the Jets would have to do it; they need to give Connor Hellebuyck the opportunity and let him run with it. Neither Michael Hutchinson nor Ondrej Pavelec have the potential Hellebuyck has and honestly even at this rate neither can get the job done the way Hellebuyck showed he could. With a healthier and improved roster ahead of Hellebuyck, the sky is the limit for Hellebuyck and the Jets and his first full season is the first step in that.